Thoughts on Thinking

"When somebody persuades me that I am wrong, I change my mind. What do you do?" John Maynard Keynes

"If you're unhappy with your life, change your thinking." Charles Fillmore

"The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it." Eckhart Tolle

"People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them." Epictetus

"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates

"Consciousness is a terrible thing to waste." PunditGeorge

Monday, August 01, 2011

Good Intentions going Bump in the Night

I wasn't surprised to read Therapy can exacerbate trauma andmake things worse according to a study looking at the counseling given to NewYorkers in the aftermath of 9/11.  Trauma therapy, as it's often referenced,  is always a delicate matter.  Immediately after the levees broke in New Orleans, following the surge produced by hurricane Katrina, federal monies flooded into Louisiana to hire counselors to work with those presumed suffering from that trauma.  No word yet on how that worked.

One of the themes of this blog is that whatever someone gives their mental/emotional attention too, he/she will experience more of the same.  It's self-evident.   For example, many folks practicing the "Complaint Free" exercise to reduce complaining (and have more problem solving) find that they are sensitive to complaining in general, and especially from those people closest to them.  All those other folks aren't bitchin' and moaning more, it's that the person is more sensitive to complaining.  A victim of a crime will be more aware of other victims of crimes and criminals in general.  And that's the tricky thing with counselors working with people who "suffered" trauma.  How to help find relief without inducing more suffering by focusing on the trauma.
An old practice "find relief" is to "relive the trauma."  If it is the client/patient who insists on revisiting the event, then perhaps there is some relief to be found.  There is always concern, when a clinician insists the client/patient relive the trauma, about the ensuing therapy.
The adage is to "get over it, and get going" with life.  Such a person, who has experienced something beyond what is considered "normal" in the life of a human being, may very well want to restore normalcy and get on with their life.  Moving on, so to speak, is difficult if the mental and emotional attention is stuck on the traumatic event.  That's what grief is for.  It works.  But it works in time.
The Spiral of Time
Imagine Time as a three-dimensional spiral. This moment is a point at the base of the spiral. As you move along the spiral of time, in one year you will be above this moment. In another year, you will be above that moment. And on and on.  Let's imagine that Jane is suddenly informed that her beloved Granny, who raised her, has died suddenly.
The sudden death of Granny is the loss event, the defining point in Jane’s spiral. Jane’s world is shattered and she experiences a high degree of pain and suffering from the loss of her very important person. Her preoccupation with the loss serves as a base line, what I call the Dwell Line. This is the point where Jane is immobilized by the shock of the loss. The Dwell Line represents a high degree of preoccupation with the loss, which intrudes into all other facets of her life.
Using time, Jane can adjust and compensate for the loss. In the best scenario, as time passes, she will gain more confidence to go on with her life. The anniversary of Granny’s death will be a powerful trigger for Jane. It is natural that she experiences sadness, hurt, and loss when the memory of Granny, and her sudden exit, is active. But she can free herself from the intensity by letting time work for her.

When Jane approaches the anniversary she is already above and beyond the level of pain and suffering on the Dwell Line. This doesn’t erase the memory or the sadness, but it is not nearly as intense. This is the goal. This is Grief and Habituation in action.

Many years after the event, Jane may not recognize why she is feeling odd, sad, moody or whatever. She may be approaching the anniversary of Granny’s death. Even if her conscious mind doesn’t recognize this, her former habits and patterns can.

When Jane recognizes that her memory of the loss of Granny is active, she has greater freedom to choose her actions. She does not deny the loss, she learns to manage it. She uses time to gently replace the habits and patterns associated with Granny—habits and patterns that have served their purpose—with new ways of living: A life without Granny.

If you can acknowledge the negative emotions and experiences associated with the loss at the base or Dwell Line, then you gain a method to measure your improvement. Pick a loss, any loss. Remember how you first reacted. Stunned. Preoccupied. Scared to death. Immobilized. How would you rate the level of those feelings today? The fact that you can do so indicates that grief works.
If Jane is unable or unwilling to move beyond the Dwell Line, she will remain stuck in that pain, depression and sorrow regardless of how much time passes. Jane will encounter the anniversary dates all right, but the intensity of the pain will stay the same. It is as if she never left the moment of Granny’s death.
She missed the ride on the Spiral of Time.   Hopefully, well-intentioned others will not keep such a  Jane from catching that ride.

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