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PTSD Trauma

Recognizing Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders in Teens

Trauma and stressor related disorders, sometimes commonly referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can be characterized by aberrant symptoms following a period or event of extreme stress, with various recurring reactions, behaviors, thoughts, and other symptoms ranging from restlessness jitters to panic attacks, extreme irritability, and more.

PTSD symptoms differ from age group to age group. The condition can occur at any point in a person’s lifetime. The only prerequisite for PTSD is trauma – while there is a genetic component in how likely PTSD is to occur after a harrowing event, anyone can be affected by PTSD.

When a teen develops PTSD or trauma and stressor related disorders, their stress response system is no longer functioning the way it should. This can lead to several issues during everyday situations, such as being hyperaware and constantly on-edge, or dissociating from life and reacting seemingly cold or emotionless.

While PTSD used to be considered a type of anxiety disorder, it has since been recategorized as a trauma disorder due to trauma and stressor related disorders having their phenotype characteristics, including dissociative symptoms and extreme irritability.

However, teens with PTSD are also more likely to struggle with comorbidity in the form of depression and anxiety. They may be more susceptible to co-occurring substance use disorders and high-risk behaviors such as self-harm. Recognizing trauma and stressor related disorders in teens is essential because specific symptoms can be mistaken for “normal” teen behavior.

What Does PTSD in Children and Teens Look Like?

Children and teens can react differently to trauma than some adults do. In younger school-aged children, PTSD symptoms may include reliving or re-engaging in traumatic experiences through play (either with toys or virtually). It is thought that younger children have a more challenging time recalling the order of traumatic events.

Teens are more likely than children and adults to react aggressively after trauma and are more likely to develop impulsive behaviors as part of their PTSD. From here, signs and symptoms vary wildly. Some of the signs of PTSD in children and teens include:

    • Avoidance of certain situations or events
    • Nightmares and flashbacks in older children
    • More impulsive behavior
    • Frequent nervousness, restlessness, being on-edge
    • Acting numb or distant
    • Trouble focusing on tasks and academics

The DMV-5 utilizes eight sets of criteria with their symptoms to define and diagnose PTSD in individuals, further providing information about how the disorder might manifest. These criterion sets include:

    1. A significant stressor/traumatic event(s)
    2. Intrusive symptoms (unwanted thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares)
    3. Avoidance symptoms
    4. Adverse changes in mood and memory (i.e., trouble remembering things)
    5. Changes in arousal and reaction (greater aggression, easily startling, hypervigilance)
    6. Duration (symptoms lasting more than four weeks)
    7. Functional significance (symptoms must create distress and impact social life, school life, work, etc.)
    8. Excluding other reasons (symptoms cannot be explained by medication, other illnesses, substance use)

Some of these signs may be more obvious than others. It is also understood that there are dissociative variants of PTSD (where the primary characteristic is a “disconnection” from reality) or other trauma and stressor related disorders.

Defining Other Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders

A traumatic experience is one that leaves a lasting negative impression. Ultimately, many of us experience traumatic events in our lives. Losing a loved one, witnessing a natural catastrophe or accident, or being the victim of a crime can leave a lasting and significant impact. However, each person processes trauma in different ways.

In some cases, the damage can be so severe that it lingers for months and bleeds into every waking moment. Flashbacks, avoidance symptoms, and hypervigilance are just some of how the mind tries to cope with an event or horror that has left an impression too great to overcome without help and therapy. Some of the other ways in which trauma can leave a lasting impact include:

Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder (ASD) shares many of the same symptoms as PTSD. Still, its onset is almost immediately after a traumatic event, lasting for at least two days and less than a month. Sometimes, ASD develops into PTSD if symptoms persist past a month.

Adjustment Disorders

Adjustment disorders are defined as adverse changes in thought or behavior in a teen following a traumatic event, usually below the threshold for a PTSD diagnosis.

Reactive Attachment Disorder

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is characterized by withdrawn behavior. It is typically caused by extreme neglect or social deprivation. A teen with RAD may display limited or lacking emotional responses and low empathy or remorse.

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder

Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED) is characterized by a lack of inhibition when interacting with strangers. Children and teens with DSED may be overly friendly or welcoming towards people they don’t know, for no apparent reason. It’s a different form of response to extreme neglect and social deprivation.

Other Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative disorders, such as dissociative identity disorder (DID), dissociative amnesia, and depersonalization disorder, are often the result of an extreme stressor or traumatic experience, causing a person to separate themselves from the experience of reality itself.

Grief-Related Trauma

The loss of a loved one causes bereavement disorders. While it’s normal to be in pain when we lose someone we love, specific symptoms – such as intense grief over a year after the death, significant impairment due to distress, preoccupation with the deceased, etc. – may indicate a disorder.

Treating Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders in Teens

Treatments for trauma and stressor related disorders depend on the severity of the condition and the types of symptoms present. Talk therapy is an integral part of the treatment process, and therapists may leverage specific techniques to help teens better process their emotions and regulate responses or gradually approach and confront particular events. Trauma-specific treatments meant to address stressors include:

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

This approach to treatment utilizes guided eye movements to change how a person reacts in response to triggers.

Exposure Therapy

Although it sounds drastic, exposure therapy encompasses several different therapy types to overcome their fear or trauma in a safe environment.

Cognitive Therapy

This type of talk therapy aims to help patients become aware of the relationship between their thoughts, behaviors, and mood and recognize patterns in thinking and behavior associated with their PTSD. Identifying these patterns can help in slowly altering them over time.

Treating PTSD in teens is difficult at any age, under any circumstances. Trauma is powerful, and it takes time and support to overcome these emotional and physical responses slowly. However, with consistent therapy and help from friends and family, long-term treatment can significantly reduce symptoms.

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PTSD Trauma

Recognizing the Symptoms of PTSD in Teens

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious and potentially underreported issue among teens. Sources of trauma are varied and can include both acute and chronic causes such as child abuse, school shootings, gang violence, and automobile accidents. Left undiagnosed or inadequately treated, PTSD can lead to several comorbid mental health conditions, a much higher rate of suicide, and trouble with social interaction.

Among children and teens, about 14-43 percent experience a type of trauma. Roughly 3-15 percent of young girls and 1-6 percent of young boys are diagnosed with PTSD. Among teens identified with PTSD, 47 percent were recorded to struggle with depression as well. Diagnosed teens were more likely than their peers to engage in high-risk behaviors and self-harm, and had trouble adjusting to and interacting with peers without PTSD.

While it’s a condition that affects millions of Americans, PTSD (and trauma in general) can often be misunderstood. It’s important to recognize the early symptoms of PTSD in teens and children, in order to seek help as early as possible.

Defining Trauma

Trauma and traumatic events are two separate concepts. Trauma is a personal emotional response to a severe event, or a chronic accumulation of overwhelming stressors. Not all traumatic events cause trauma in a person, and not all instances of trauma lead to a disorder. Trauma is, despite its terrible nature, a normal response. We go through emotional and physical shock after a sudden loss, assault, or other type of traumatic event.

Similarly, being exposed to upsetting situations repeatedly can also cause trauma, such as with first responders to mass casualty events, social workers, medical professionals, soldiers, and police officers confronted with violent cases. Like a buzzer, some of these examples can eventually cause shock to run through our system. In rare occasions, a traumatic response can leave the buzzer on almost permanently.

Rather than being in a state of shock and denial for a few days to a few weeks, the symptoms and feelings of trauma might persist for months and years. When the personal response to a traumatic event is particularly severe or long-lasting, it becomes a disorder. While the main cause of PTSD is trauma, there are factors that make it more or less likely for teens to develop PTSD. Recurring trauma increases the chances of PTSD, for example, as does a history of anxiety and traumatic stress in the family.

Being left alone or having no system for support or recovery after trauma can also cause it to linger for much longer and develop PTSD. PTSD can cause a change in the brain’s reaction to stress, especially anything reminiscent of the trauma, and one aspect PTSD is that it causes the body’s fight-flight-freeze response to go haywire.

The Three Main Symptoms

When trauma lingers and develops into PTSD, it continues to leave a mark on a person’s life in one or more ways, usually along the lines of three basic symptoms:

    • Re-experiencing: Symptoms people usually think of when they think of PTSD tend to be forms of re-experiencing – flashbacks, bad dreams, sudden images and intrusive thoughts, and unwanted recollection. Sometimes, symptoms of re-experiencing are triggered by outside reminders. At other times, they can occur out of nowhere.
    • Avoidance: Some people develop emotional numbness to anything associated with the trauma. They avoid or grow distant towards people, places, and things. Avoidance in PTSD can be extreme and may even include signs of dissociation or disconnection from oneself or reality.
    • Agitation: These are symptoms of extreme alertness and arousal. Someone who is excessively jumpy, easily angered, and struggles with sleep may be experiencing symptoms of agitation.

Most symptoms of PTSD fall within the three major categories of symptoms and represent intense unresolved fear and unconscious attempts at coping with that fear. Due to PTSD’s effects on the brain and the way we perceive stress, teens diagnosed with PTSD may be more likely to develop comorbid mental health conditions and are more susceptible to things like substance use disorder.

Common Signs and Symptoms of PTSD in Teens

Some of the signs of PTSD in teens include:

    • Panic attacks
    • Recurring nightmares after the fact
    • Restlessness and insomnia
    • High irritability
    • Easily startled
    • Emotionally numb or distant
    • Isolating oneself from friends and family
    • Avoiding places and things
    • Struggling at school or work
    • More open to high-risk behavior
    • More likely to react violently towards others (this is more common among teens than children or adults)
    • Struggling to maintain a relationship
    • Openly discussing suicidal ideas
    • Reacting viscerally to traumatic triggers (heart rate hikes, hyperventilation)

Researchers find PTSD symptoms differ slightly between children, teens, and adults. For example, children are likely to incorporate elements of their trauma into play, because they are reliving their trauma by re-enacting it. Teens tend to display more violent behavior if exposed to violence versus children or adults.

PTSD vs. Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder (ASD) is a different condition that arises in the first month after a traumatic event. When someone is exhibiting severe symptoms similar to PTSD immediately after a horrific event, they are generally experiencing ASD. These symptoms become PTSD when they last longer than a month.

Another difference is that PTSD symptoms can and do sometimes occur with a delay – a teen can survive a tragic accident or terrible assault and be “fine” for weeks and months, and then begin displaying symptoms of PTSD months after the event occurred. Extremely rare cases have even recorded PTSD onset occurring a year after trauma.

Seeking Help

A diagnosis of PTSD is not made lightly. It is normal to feel shaken up after a traumatic event. But it is equally important not to dismiss what might be a mental disorder. PTSD can leave its mark on the brain and turn every day into a nightmare. Seeking help as early as possible can help reduce the impact PTSD has on a teen’s life. Consider seeking a diagnosis from a psychiatrist or take a screening test and bring the results to a mental health professional.

Categories
Recovery Trauma

Awareness—Rape Culture and Addiction

Rape isn’t a new problem. Everyone in the world knows about someone in their family, a friend, or neighbor that has been affected by an incident of sexual assault. Acts like rape ruin lives, and it has to stop. When we think about rape victims, many people don’t quite understand that everything stops and nothing is ever the same for them. Victims of rape are at the highest rate for alcohol and substance abuse, where addiction and self-isolation—that delicately toes the line for suicide—takes hold of their world and makes them a prisoner to the unsafe place that is now their home.

The Brock Turner Case Issue

The case of the State vs. Brock Turner isn’t a case we can think of where justice has been served, but where the justice system has fallen short once again. For those victims of rape, thoughts about what it felt like are refreshed with this injustice. For men and women, young teens and children all over the world that have experienced something like this, we know there is nothing that can be done to reverse what’s happened in the past.

No life sentence can change the way you feel when someone invades your personal space, the difficulty you have when trying to engage in romantic activity with your partner, or how you feel about yourself throughout your lifetime. What justice does, is bring awareness to the issue.

Building awareness about rape and the problems that come flooding into the lives of the victims is what needs to happen now. The issues that come up about people of color and white privilege come to the surface. To stop rape from occurring as well as the snowball of social, mental and physical health problems that ensue from it, we must teach our children to care for one another and to know what’s right from wrong. We can’t allow people to think it’s okay or that it’s something minor and that a person should be more careful because this isn’t the issue. We cannot ask victims if they egged someone on or if they are sure they didn’t allow it to happen. Think before you put someone down and discount their struggle with rape. It’s never okay.

We at Visions Adolescent Treatment Center understand that every voice must be heard, and therapy is essential to rebuild, in some capacity, a safe and comforting space. Therapy helps victims understand why they react the way they do from physical touch and anything sensory.

We encourage our clients to speak out and inspire others to do so as well. When we come together and bring awareness to the world, the chances for rape to occur and for victims to isolate is reduced. When we say it’s not okay, that’s when we can lift the veil and help people deal with their broken worlds.

If you or a loved one suffers from addiction and struggles with sexual assault, call Visions Adolescent Treatment Center today at (818) 889-3665.

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Mental Health Recovery Trauma Treatment

In Recovery, We Lean In to Let Go

Being in recovery from mental illness, substance abuse, alcoholism, eating disorders, behavioral issues, et cetera, require that we lean into some things that make us uncomfortable. Let me tell you, “leaning in” isn’t easy. Our brains like pleasure and revile pain. In fact, finding ourselves in rehab tells us that our habitual patterns of trying to put an elementary salve on a gushing wound weren’t working very well. It means that drinking, drugging, stealing or lying our way out of our feelings doesn’t work — at least not permanently. Frankly, none of these “solutions” ever work. Not in the long or short term.

By suggesting that we lean into our difficulties instead of leaning away, I am asking for you to embrace your courage. I am also asking you to trust in your exemplary clinical team, your support team, and in your own ability to do this difficult work while you are in treatment and beyond. Positive thinking or praying for it all to magically go away are both examples of temporary, feel-good actions that don’t provide a long-term solution. It’s wise to also recognize that the recovery process often requires legitimate, clinically supported psychological care.

Recovery is about change. It’s about shifting perspectives and learning how to redefine and revise old paradigms in order to create healthy ones. When we face our old thought patterns and old ideals, we offer ourselves the opportunity to let go. We often find ourselves able to walk through our issues not around them, recognizing that while they are present, ready and willing to make us miserable, we don’t have to take the bait. When we begin to look at our issues with some awareness and compassion, their negative influence has a chance to dissipate.

Our ability to recognize the negative for what it is allows us to invite the positive experiences and influences into our lives. In our recent blog, “How do You Stay Motivated,” I quoted Dr. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., who addresses this very thing: “The remedy is not to suppress negative experiences; when they happen, they happen. Rather, it is to foster positive experiences – and in particular, take them in so they become a permanent part of you.”

Negative experiences do not have to own us; in fact, they can be part of the landscape without being part of our foundations.  This is emblematic of recovery.

The process of recovery is not something you have to do alone. In fact, you can’t. There are support groups, clinicians, treatment facilities, therapists, et cetera, as available resources to you. Yes, there are things you may have to face and work through, but coming to an understanding that you don’t have to ride through that storm alone is a welcome relief.

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Feelings Mental Health Recovery Self-Care Trauma

Acknowledging and Honoring Grief

With addiction and mental illness comes something that we often don’t want to look at, which is grief and the deep sense of loss that arrives when we or a family member steps into recovery. Drugs and alcohol and/or mental illness are often viewed as the villains in the aftermath of addiction. But the underlying weight of grief often gets shoved to the side or bypassed entirely.

 

The truth is, grief can be crippling. It can take the wind out of us and make us feel like we’ve landed flat on our faces, gasping for air. When we ignore it, or devalue the importance of the grieving process, we suffer more.

 

Mental illness and/or addiction may have ripped your family at the seams. It may have poked holes in your belief system, and placed a shadow on your hopes and dreams for your family. The truth is, everyone suffers: the one with the disease and the ones close to them.

 

I grew up with a parent mired by the tragedy of her own childhood, which was fraught with a mentally ill mother and a stoic father. Now, I see this same parent as an adult and it affords me the opportunity to recognize the untended grief and loss she’s endured and the great suffering that has resulted. A large portion of our existence in a scenario like this revolves around survival and learning how to endure the shame and fear associated with our circumstances. It’s not uncommon for the grief we feel to be ignored or for us to feel as though it is something to endure.

 

How can we stand tall in the midst of suffering while honoring our grief?

 

Talk about it. Develop a relationship with someone you trust that can help you process your feelings. It could be a counselor, a therapist, a psychologist, a good friend. What we hold onto holds onto us. Processing grief is part acknowledgement and part letting go. It evolves and becomes something we can hold with care instead of treating it like a hot stone.

 

Practice self-care. Take walks, meditate, do yoga, surf, get a massage, take a bath. Indulge in yourself. Healing is hard work; it’s important to nurture ourselves in the process.

 

Lean toward your difficulty. As counterintuitive as that may sound, this is ultimately the way out. That which we fear, can hold us back. We have to find a way to feel our feelings, touch our own hearts with kindness and compassion, and begin the process of finding acceptance and letting go. Take baby steps here. You don’t have to take on the high dive just yet.

 

Grief is present all around us. In adolescence, we grieve the loss of childhood and the inference of responsibility. In recovery, we grieve the person we were, the things we missed, and the damage we did. We also grieve the perceived “fun” guy/gal we thought we were. Be patient: recovery will afford you many more fulfilling ways of having fun.  This list goes on, but it doesn’t have to be daunting.

 

My experience has shown me that when I lean toward the thing I fear, the fear lessons. When I acknowledge the shadow side and hold the difficulties with compassion, the light starts to trickle in. I suffer when I turn away, and when I ignore the suffering, it becomes more unbearable.  The work in recovery teaches us that we can walk through difficulties with grace, we can begin to feel our feelings and we can crack open the barriers around our hearts. With our feet planted on the earth, and our minds open to possibility, the plight of suffering has a place to fly free.

Categories
Adolescence Communication Mental Health Parenting Recovery Therapy Trauma

Healthy Boundaries Make for Healthy Teens

© sarit z rogers

What steps can you take to ensure that you aren’t in violation of someone’s boundaries? For example, not everyone enjoys being hugged, nor is it always appropriate to express that level of touch. From the perspective of a teacher or a therapist, one must understand the innate power differential that exists between teacher and student or therapist and client. One is looking to the other for advice and pedagogic elucidation, and one is holding the power to elicit such information. We therefore need to be thoughtful in our approach to employing touch in these situations.

 

In a therapeutic environment such as Visions, we address more than substance abuse and mental illness; we are facilitating the excavation of trauma and creating safe boundaries. It’s important to maintain awareness around our own sense of boundaries and how execute them. Asking ourselves these questions and contemplating the answers through talking to our peers and writing them out will help you discern where you may need some work, and where you are strongest:

 

  1. What does it mean to set boundaries?
  2. Is it hard to say “no”? If so, what does saying “no” feel like?
  3. How do I feel when my boundaries are crossed?
  4. What is my reaction internally and externally?
  5. Am I afraid to set boundaries? Why?
  6. What is my history around setting boundaries?

 

As clinicians and teachers, it’s imperative that we know and understand where our weak spots are so we can work on them. For some people, it’s not uncommon to wait until someone pushes us to our edge before we set a limit. The desire to please others or to be liked plays a part here, and our own backgrounds and upbringing will also effect how we interact with others. Perhaps we come from a family where hugging and touch is part of the norm. It may be natural for us to reach out and hug someone when they are suffering, but it’s not always appropriate.

 

Hugging a client may be a violation of a boundary, but if the client has been traumatized in some way, they may not know how to set that boundary. Likewise, if a client persistently tries to hug you, you have to maintain a firm boundary so they learn to understand what is and what is not appropriate. I was volunteering at my son’s school recently, and a kid came up and hugged me, not wanting to let go. It was a child I don’t know and it was a clear violation of my boundaries and the school’s rules. I gently moved away and held a boundary with this child until he moved on. Teens look to us as examples to learn from and to emulate. If we don’t show strong, safe boundaries, they won’t be able to either. Understand that the boundaries we create encourage freedom to be who you are while creating a safe container for healing and recovery.

Respecting boundaries applies to parents too. If the family dynamic has been compromised, parents have to work to rebuild a healthy and safe family structure. Creating solid boundaries is key in that process. Adolescents love to push buttons and stretch boundaries; they are smack dab in the center of their individuation process. That doesn’t mean you, the parent, have to give in. Remember: “No” is a complete sentence, and when it’s said with certainty and conviction, it makes all the difference. A wishy-washy, non-committal “no” may as well be a “maybe” or a “yes.” Poor limits leave room for negotiation where there shouldn’t be.

We all have a part to play in creating safe limits whether we are parents, teachers, or clinicians. Kids, in their infinite wisdom and testing behaviors, demand strong limits, whether they admit it or not. Boundaries create safety. They provide defined parameters in which to develop and grow. So as much as a teen may push, inside, they really do respect a firm “No” and a defined environment.

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Feelings Mental Health Recovery Self-Care Trauma Wellness

Helpful Tools for Self-Regulation

Calm Lake (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

Developing tools for self-regulation allows us to tap into our internal resources so we can be less reactive. Self-regulation will increase our ability to navigate difficult situations or work in challenging environments.  Self-regulation requires us to tap into our mind and body connection. When someone is dysregulated, they are disconnected. One of the steps to self-regulation is learning to connect with our physical sensations and our bodies. Think of it this way: When we are dysregulated, we are reactive rather than responsive. Likewise, when we are self-regulated, we are responsive rather than reactive.

 

Often times, parents have a tough time regulating their emotions. Imagine this: your child has done something infuriating—perhaps he’s lied, or she’s ditching school or doing drugs—and you respond by yelling. You are frustrated, and perhaps even triggered. You are dysregulated. At this point, you are ineffective in your parenting and your kids are apt to be dysregulated as well. You are essentially communicating with metaphorically closed fists. Stress and trauma both send the sympathetic nervous system into the fray.  However, self-regulation will engage the parasympathetic system, which is the body’s natural way of applying a salve. Your action here is to take a time out. Get yourself to a quiet space so you can begin to self-regulate.

 

The three main tools of self-regulation are:

Grounding, Resourcing, and Orienting.

 

Grounding allows you to reconnect with your emotions and physical sensations. Paying attention to your feet on the floor, or placing your hands on something solid can help you get back into your body. Taking deep breaths while you are doing this can help you track the sensations mindfully. Taking a time out when you are dysregulated is the first step to getting grounded.

 

Resourcing is the way in which you ground. We all have resources within us or outside of ourselves. Resources are tools with which we can reconnect with ourselves. For example, breath can be a resource. Your hands on your belly or lap can be a resource. Your pet can be a resource. A resource is something that helps you feel good when everything around you is dismal.

 

Orienting is a way of checking in with your surroundings. When we are not self-regulated, we check out. It can be a very disembodying experience–one that feels determinedly unsafe and out of control.  So when we orient, we do so by consciously noticing our surroundings: looking around the room, noticing where we are, where we are sitting, et cetera.

 

All of these tools help us self-regulate and all of these tools can be taught to our kids regardless of their age or stage of development. In very young children, it starts with self-soothing and bringing awareness to feelings. As kids get older, the language can shift and become more detailed. Being a teen is frightening developmental state; they experience life more intensely because of where they are developmentally. Teens can learn to slow down. Count to 10 before you respond to something provocative, or take a deep, mindful breath. You may find that what you thought you had to say changes. You may discover that what you need to say comes out softer and kinder. Using your breath this way is a means of grounding and resourcing. When we do this, we are developing skills to be in relationship with our impulses and feelings. By reinforcing this awareness, we gain opportunities to change.  Self-regulation is a doorway to self-care. In caring for ourselves, we can more aptly care for others.

 

Parents, you can act as the conduit for this shift. Your kids want to learn from you, even as they push away. By developing these self-regulating tools yourself, your kids may follow. Teach by example, not by hard hands. By doing so, you will no longer communicate with closed fits; you will communicate with open palms and an open heart.

Read this for inspiration:

Getting to the Root of it All – Hala Khouri, M.A.

Categories
Mental Health Mindfulness Recovery Trauma

Finding Resilience Within

jumping (Photo credit: Coubert)

What is resilience anyway?

To be resilient/to have resilience is to be able to quickly “bounce back” or “recover from” a traumatic/stressful experience. It’s the ability to self-regulate, self-soothe, and get grounded when times are tough.

How do you find your resilience?

Resilience develops when we learn to effectively self-regulate. When we develop the ability to recognize the interconnectivity between our minds and our bodies, noticing their effect on one another, we give our nervous system a chance to reset itself. As we gain resources, our resilience increases, allowing us to “bounce back” more readily than when we are dysregulated. Ultimately, your resources should come from within, because wherever you are, there you are. You can’t escape yourself (trust me, I’ve tried).

Tap into your resources:

  • Breathe – Breathing is our most magnificent resource. It’s portable and it’s always with us. Exhaling longer than your inhale can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, our internal ER.  Try this simple breathing exercise:

Sit in a quiet space where you can relax. Softly close your eyes and begin to notice your breath:

Inhale – one

Exhale – two

Inhale – three

Exhale — four

Do this until you get to 10. Repeat 3 times.

This is a simple mindfulness technique that invites calm. Your parasympathetic nervous system can jump in here, slowing the heart beat and cooling the breath.

  • Meditation and yoga: both of these are contemplative practices that invite you to get back in touch with your internal mechanisms. With practices like meditation and yoga, your internal resources have permission to flourish.

Do we all have it?

Stressful events happen…to all of us. How we recover from them and process them is contingent on our personal histories.  For example, if we are raised in an environment where we are silenced and unheard, then managing stress will be reminiscent of that: we may squash it, bury it, or set it aside. We will try to “deal with it.” In reality, we aren’t dealing with anything when we do that; in fact, we are denying it and allowing it to fester.  At the same time, if we are raised in an environment where communication is encouraged, and feelings are met with understanding, one’s resilience to stress will tend to be higher.

Is it easier for some to access resilience than it is for others?

I believe that most people can develop resilience if they have a support system in place and encouragement to work with their shadows and unpack their traumas. However, there needs to be an opportunity available to do this work, or the desire to seek help.  If one comes from an impoverished environment, their ability to resource would be limited. At the same time, someone with more options would be more likely to have access to resources, making resilience more easily attainable.  I often use myself as a reference when talking about overcoming adversity because I wasn’t provided with the best hand of cards. I definitely had a few jokers in there.  What I did have was a deep desire to change my circumstances. This gave my resilience a chance to develop and for that I am grateful. Being an at-risk teen didn’t provide me with a lot of outside resources.

 

At Visions, we have a remarkable staff of trauma-informed therapists to help families develop resilience. We are forward thinking in our approach to trauma, recognizing that each person requires an individualized process, and understanding the challenges people are faced with when doing this work. At the core, we are lighting the internal fire of hope and healing in our families, empowering each client to discover their ability work with their difficulties in more sustainable, healthy ways. Our nervous systems respond well to kindness and compassion, and with support, these actions can begin to come from ourselves. It means we have to muddle through the shame and grief that plagues us, and give ourselves permission to heal. Recovery is possible; resilience is possible; you are possible.

Categories
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Mental Health Recovery Therapy Trauma

Redefining Your Emotional Landscape With DBT

mindfulness 1.0 (Photo credit: Mrs Janet R)

The ideology behind therapeutic tools like DBT is to facilitate and encourage an emotional and psychological paradigm shift towards a more sustainable relationship to one’s mental health challenges. The foundational tenant of DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) is mindfulness training. By using core mindfulness skills, one becomes personally active in redefining their relationship to their suffering.  Using these tools, one can learn to be non-reactive to their discomfort while staying emotionally present.  In a nutshell, they are taking what is a learned response to stress and dismantling it. DBT teaches you how to put it back together in a healthier, more sustainable and manageable way.

 

Are we programmed to fix things? Is being present with “what is” simply too much? For many, the answer to these questions is a wholehearted “Yes!” We come to recovery in deep suffering, and often times, this suffering is precluded by failed attempts at “fixing” what was “wrong” with us. Substance abuse, sex, shopping, self-harming, video games, the Internet, and gambling are used as ways to mollify our pain; these things are temporary and eventually, they cease to work. What we are left with are the frayed shadows of unaddressed traumas, hurt, loss, shame, sadness, depression, anxiety, et cetera.

 

Redefining the way we approach our difficulties takes patience. It takes effort. It takes acceptance. It requires us to sit with our discomfort without trying to fix it or change it in any way. Imagine someone clutching something with all of their might, because letting go would be unfathomable. But their grip is so tight, what they are holding onto is crushed, creating sheer devastation and heartbreak. What if we look at our difficulties the same way: if we hold onto them so tightly, we create heartbreak and devastation. Instead, we can hold them gently, giving those same difficulties room to breathe and change.

 

There is no magic bullet. There is work to be done, and it takes effort and patience and support. With tremendous tools like DBT elicited by skilled clinicians, it’s clear the temperature of mental health recovery is changing; it’s more inclusive and collaborative.

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Mental Health Recovery Spirituality Trauma

Spiritual Bypass: Nah, Feel Your Feelings

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The mental health community is becoming well versed in the term “Spiritual Bypass” and often uses it to recognize when individuals are relying upon a spiritual practice or belief to “bypass” or divert from the reality of their situation. For example, if someone is living in a fantastical world attached to the belief that controlling their thoughts is a means of changing the outcome of a situation, they are engaging in a form of spiritual bypass. Our actions must follow any positive intentions or those intentions will elude us. We cannot think our way into a positive outcome. Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D., and author of Recovering Spirituality: Achieving Emotional Sobriety in Your Spiritual Practice says, “Spiritual bypass shields us from the truth, it disconnects us from our feelings, and helps us avoid the big picture. It is more about checking out than checking in—and the difference is so subtle that we usually don’t even know we are doing it.”

 

Many of us are introduced or reintroduced to a spiritual path upon entering recovery. So, when we begin developing our spiritual lives, it’s not uncommon to get lulled by the idea that we have to be perfect, or that we cannot show anger, or disappointment, or fear, or emotions other than deep gratitude and acceptance of all things. It then becomes easy to use our spirituality to avoid dealing with ourselves and our shadows dancing in the corners of our lives. There isn’t a person who comes to a spiritual path free from some kind of suffering or sorrow. We all have some kind of trauma we are working with, or running from, or trying to navigate. Feelings are uncomfortable. They hurt. They make our knees buckle.  They make us weep and scream. They make us feel broken. I assure you, we are far from broken. We are merely bending from exhaustion and fear and resistance. Here, when we spiritually bypass, we certainly have moments of reprieve, but they are merely moments. Here’s what actually happens: those feelings, fears, disappointments, longings, losses, hurts, traumas, they all fester inside of our bodies. And they eek out of us when we least expect it: in traffic, in the grocery line, toward our children, toward our friends, toward our teachers, toward our students, toward ourselves.

 

It’s alluring to seek out a “quick fix,” but the fact is, we have to walk through the muck of emotions and slog through those dark, sticky feelings to get to the other side, which is freedom. The saying “The only way out is through,” isn’t for naught. When we rely upon spiritual bypass, we are choosing to only focus on that which we like. Life is so much more than that: it’s a remarkable prism of joy, and pain, love, and light, sadness, grief, birth, and death. It is a sea of wonder. It is a symphony. Grab hold of it and enjoy it, even the ugly is there to teach us something. It is where we learn our resilience, and our capacity for care. To quote one of my teachers, Hala Khouri, “Our wounds our often the source of our gifts, and if we don’t investigate our wounds, they will get in the way.