Archives for May 2015

Gentle Healing From Trauma: The Care and Feeding of the Nervous System

By Joan-Marie Lartin, PhD, RN

Imbalances in neurotransmitters are related to many symptoms of PTSD: anxiety, obsessions, irritability and rage responses; cravings for carbohydrates, alcohol, and other compulsions (shopping, gambling, and sex, for example); insomnia, panic attacks and depression.

Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder or, as it sometimes feels, Ongoing Stress Disorder, affects us spiritually, emotionally, cognitively, physically and behaviorally. Of course, since we are whole persons, these aspects overlap to some degree.

Fortunately, recent advances in brain science have created options for helping to heal trauma that are safe, noninvasive, natural and very effective. As a therapist with over 35 years’ experience in general, and with over 20 years’ experience helping traumatized people of all ages, I have found amino acid therapy and neurofeedback training to be powerful tools in healing from trauma.

I have had my own experiences with trauma—the suicide of a family member, marital infidelity and a number of relationships with disordered men. PTSD is not an academic subject for me, and my experiences have shaped my approach to clients who come to me for help with problems related to emotional trauma.

One of the most useful ways I have found of thinking about emotional trauma is that it is a serious threat, or ongoing threat, to well-being that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. Coping mechanisms just can’t do the trick, and so the person’s behavior and emotional, cognitive, and physical states show evidence of being overwhelmed.

The symptoms of PTSD,  even though they are serious and even debilitating, are just that—

symptoms that something is very wrong. It is of course crucial to provide relief for the symptoms such as insomnia, overeating, panic attacks, and depression. It is also crucial to place these symptoms in a larger context so the cause(s) of the problem—being overwhelmed by a Pathological Love Relationship, for example—can also be addressed and changed.

One of the most far-reaching innovations in treating PTSD that I have seen is supplementation with amino acids and related substances. Since PTSD disrupts these fundamental physiological processes, it makes sense to provide a person with PTSD symptoms with these building blocks so her body can recover, and in doing so, reduce or eliminate some of the symptoms that are directly or indirectly related to neurotransmitter imbalances created by being chronically overwhelmed.

In PTSD, the person is physiologically overwhelmed, especially in the nervous system, and often moves into overdrive and then sometimes exhaustion. The stress response—fight, flight, or freeze—can also go into overdrive and become a permanent, rather than a temporary, situation. This makes it particularly difficult to calm the nervous system—it is as though the stress response has taken on a life of its own and is in overdrive.

It’s no wonder traumatized people self-medicate with food, drugs (prescription and street), alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, shopping, and the like. The anxiety level seems to be set on ‘high’ all the time, whether there is an external threat or not. For partners or former partners of disordered persons, of course the stress is often ongoing and severe, making it exceedingly difficult, and perhaps risky, for the person’s physiology to lower the threat response.

But the threat response, the fight/flight/freeze, has its upsides as well as its downsides. From a positive perspective, this response ensures that the person will react quickly to threats to safety and well-being. He or she may also overreact to situations that are not really threatening. But if this response is calmed down and essentially ‘reset’ it will be there when needed. Being on red alert—hypervigilant—is not really healthy. We are not wired to be in overdrive all the time, and when this occurs, the toll is high.

For example, neurotransmitters are chemical messengers which ensure that the person responds to and recovers from all kinds of situations. There are fundamentally two kinds—excitatory, which help us get going, and inhibitory, which help us to calm down. Prolonged stress related to emotional trauma triggers the constant release of both kinds.

Over time, the body cannot sustain this and it becomes depleted and out of balance. Serotonin is one of the key inhibitory neurotransmitters, and it is almost always very low in traumatized individuals. Traditional antidepressants may recycle what little there is but do not help the person to produce any more.

Reduced serotonin levels can lead to insomnia, irritability, headaches, carbohydrate cravings and depression. High levels of excitatory neurotransmitters can lead to increased anxiety (as if there weren’t enough to begin with!) and insomnia.

So we can see how it is that PTSD leads to physical overdrive, which leads to many problems, neurotransmitter imbalances being an important example. The good news is that it is now possible to measure many of the key neurotransmitter levels, directly and indirectly. However, neurotransmitter testing is now often covered by many health insurance companies, and the very specific amino acids that are suggested are usually easily available.

Just as a woman who is having heavy periods may take iron tablets for a time until the cause of the excessive bleeding is determined, so we can take supplements that will help balance our neurotransmitters. Most of these supplements are amino acids—naturally occurring substances that the body uses as building blocks for most neurotransmitters.

While there is currently some controversy about this in the traditional medical community, it may well be related to the recent nature of these discoveries as well as the limitations and blind spots of the existing medical paradigms. Time will tell.

Another naturally occurring substance in our bodies is cortisol, which is produced by the adrenal glands in response to the fight/flight/freeze response. A discussion of cortisol imbalances will be presented in a forthcoming column; suffice it to say that if a cortisol imbalance exists and is not corrected, just as is true for neurotransmitter imbalances, recovery from emotional trauma will take much longer to occur.

In my practice, I combine neurotransmitter testing with psychotherapy as well as neurofeedback training. Using the amino acid supplements alone, which I am frequently asked to do outside of the client-therapist relationship, is not advisable for many reasons.

For starters, these supplements are not a magic bullet and the use of them alone can reinforce the belief among Americans that if we just take the right pill, everything will be OK. As Sandra L. Brown’s research and clinical work have demonstrated, there are many, many other aspects of healing from life with a disordered person and the predicable emotional trauma that is a part of the picture.

But the very good news is that amino acid supplements, after a specific test or tests to determine if and where imbalances lie, as well as neurofeedback training in conjunction with psychotherapy and other modalities such as yoga, massage, EMDR, offer a very gentle and extremely effective path for getting your life back on track. What a blessing.

 

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know. The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships. Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions. See the website for more information.)

 

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

 

The Power of Relapsing

Never before in my 25 plus-year career have I seen more relapsing back into Pathological Love Relationships than I have lately.

“What’s wrong with me? Why do I do this?” they ask. My answer is—I don’t know… why DO you do it?

“I didn’t know what I was doing…” Yes you did. Contact is a choice.

“I just thought he changed this time.” No, you didn’t—you know pathology is permanent.

“I was lonely.” Ok, loneliness is not fatal—but these relationships often are. Your loneliness and need does not change his permanent disorder.

Nothing has changed except your thoughts about him and the relationship. That’s the only change. Since pathology is marked by an inability to change and sustain positive change, your thoughts are the only change that there is in the relationship. And maybe your desire or need.

Relapsing begins FIRST in the mind long before it becomes a behavior-seeking missile that is fired off to destroy yourself and your recovery. This is why being in a Pathological Love Relationship support group is so important—whether it’s in a chat forum, an in-person support group you attend, social media group, or an online teleconferencing group. You need support that keeps your THINKING outside of the fantasy zone. Without support, you are likely to sink right back into the old fantasy hopefulness that keeps you glued to a go-nowhere and dangerous relationship.

Relapse thinking goes like this:

You take all the material you’ve learned from books or online back to the pathological and try to convince him he is pathological and needs help.

You tell him what your counselor has said about him, you, or the relationship—hoping the impact from a professional will change his mind about his condition.

You say, “Now that I think I know what might be wrong with him, I’ll wait and watch for him to do these behaviors.”

“Then I’ll have evidence for why I’m leaving.”

When he, in fact does one of the behaviors, you either point it out to him as proof you were right, or, you find reasons why the behavior isn’t exactly what you read and therefore, he may not be pathological after all.

You read the materials and literature looking to find all the traits he doesn’t have. You reread the literature on good days so you can cross off behaviors he isn’t doing today.

You find reasons to disbelieve the literature about the disorder.

You avoid your counselor, the Institute’s website, or anywhere there are others who know about the disorder.

You become ‘spiritually hopeful’ so you can stay in the relationship because God is going to heal him.

You begin reading Positive Psychology materials so you can hope he can change even though pathology is all about the inability to change.

You call his girlfriends or exes to get them to confirm or deny he’s pathological.

You hire a private investigator to follow him, ask friends to report back on his social media activity, break into his phone or computer, for ‘just a little more info’ on why you should leave him (but then you don’t leave).

You feel sorry for him more than you feel anger for your own pain.

You focus on the few good times and stuff your own feelings about the deceitful behavior.

You encourage him to carrot-dangle some future hope or potential to you, so you can say, “We’ll try it ONE MORE time.”

You think you are confronting him because you stand up to him, and so you are not being victimized by him if you are voicing your thoughts.

You minimize his previous deceitful, manipulative, dangerous, exploitative or lethal behavior by saying, “I was probably over-exaggerating it.”

You label yourself, “just as sick as he is” so you might as well stay with him. No one healthy would want you.

You envy his lack of conscience and remorse and see it as a ‘good life’ feature, and wish you were like that and cared less about what happened to you. Everything seems to go his way when he lacks conscience.

You hyper-focus on his behavior and avoid taking care of yourself. The relationship/he becomes the reason for your unhappiness, health, financial, and/or other problems.

You study to death all the traits of every kind of disorder you think he might have and don’t leave because you “want to totally understand it before you leave” and need just a little bit more understanding or validation from others—his family, his therapist, your therapist, your friends, etc.

You start softening, missing him, minimizing his behavior, focusing on your own loneliness, panic about who or what he is doing, make excuses to have contact with him. And ~VOILÀ~ you’re back in.

The ‘emergency therapy session’ call that everyone wants to have is AFTER they have done one of these behaviors and feel awful about relapsing. The emergency session needs to be WHILE you are having these thoughts and BEFORE you act on them. Every time you go through one of these cycles of relapses, it just numbs you more to why you should be out. It makes it easier and easier to relapse. And easier for the thinking to start back up in your head and be totally unrecognized by you.

Damage is done to YOU each time you are in and out of the Pathological Love Relationship, damaging your sense of reality even further—training yourself how to hypnotize your belief system with one of the thinking phrases listed above. You are also teaching the pathological how to get you back in the relationship. They aren’t stupid! They are master behavior analysts that study what works with you. Stop teaching them!

There is so much that the Pathological Love Relationship has legitimately done and damaged in you. But there is so much you DO TO YOURSELF in your relapsing. Relapse prevention requires work. It doesn’t just ‘happen’ that you declare you are ‘done’ and you stay gone. If “it takes a whole village to raise a child,” it takes a whole community to help you get out and stay out until MUCH TIME down the road and you are strong enough on your own. I said, MUCH TIME.

Day one of healing does not happen until you are out, and have been out and have been emotionally disconnected, for several months. I don’t consider people who say they are recovering but are in and out and having constant relapse contact, to have even day one under their belt. For those of you who are truly ready to start a new life, we are here to help you. Unwedge yourself!

 

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

 © www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

 

 

 

Grieving the Pathological Loss, Part 2: The Personal Side

In last week’s article, we began talking about the grief process as it pertains to ending the relationship with your dangerous (and often, pathological) person. Even though the relationship was damaging, and maybe you even initiated the breakup, you cannot sidestep the necessary grieving. Women are shocked to find themselves grieving at all, given how abusive, damaging, or horrible the relationship was. They tell themselves they should be grateful to be out and this negates their own feelings of loss. The end of a relationship always constitutes a loss, whether he died or whether the relationship merely ended—the heart recognizes it as the same—a loss.

I also mentioned in the last article that grief is natural. It’s an organic way the body and mind tries to rid themselves of the pain. That’s why it’s so necessary, because if you did not grieve, you would have no way to eventually be out of pain. Grief is the way a person moves through the loss and to the other side of health and healing.

Without grief there wouldn’t even be a POTENTIAL for healing because grief must occur in order for healing to follow. To stuff your grief or try to avoid it is to sabotage your own ability to heal. So for every person trying to work through the ending of a relationship, grief is the healthiest response.

Some of the losses associated with the end of the relationship were discussed in the previous article. The ‘personal side’ of grief—the other aspects that were lost because of the pathological relationship and must be grieved include the loss of:

  • your own self-respect
  • your own dignity
  • your self-identity
  • your self-confidence
  • your self-esteem
  • your ability to trust your own instincts
  • respect of others
  • trust of others
  • hope
  • joy
  • the belief that you can ever be different or better

These significant personal losses may not always be recognized as ‘grief’ but more as all the deficits that have been left behind because of the pathological relationship. Although he is gone, this is his mark upon your life and your soul. These losses reflect the loss of your self and your own internal personal resources.

Stripped away is your ability to recognize your former self, the ability to tap into what was once the strength that helped you in life, and to respect your self and your life choices.

Of all the things that need grieving, women indicate these personal losses are the most devastating. Because in the end, you are all that you have left—when he is gone, you must fall back on your self for your healing. But what is left has been described by survivors as “an empty shell of a former life”… “a garden that is overgrown with weeds and in disrepair”… “a once-stately estate that has been vandalized and abandoned.”

To begin the arduous task of healing and repair requires that you turn inward and draw on your resources. But what was there feels like it is gone. You may want to begin the healing from the pathological relationship, but you are stopped short in your tracks by the necessary grieving of all things internal that are now gone or damaged.

Clearly, the first step is to grieve. Let us know if we can help you take that first step.

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

 © www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com

Grieving the Pathological Loss, Part 1

Over and over, women are shocked to find out how badly they feel about leaving a dangerous/pathological man. As horrendous as the relationships has been, as hurt as they have become at his hands, and with the emotional/physical/financial/sexual/spiritual cost it takes to heal… “Why in the world am I so sad and in so much grief?”

One of the things we have discovered from our research project (Women Who Love Psychopaths) is that ‘loving’ a pathological (not just a psychopath, but any person with a pathological disorder), seems to involve having a very intense attachment to the relationship. Most women report that ‘loving’ them is nothing like anything else they ever experienced. They indicate that it’s more intense than other relationships, there are more mind games that keep them very confused and unable to detach, and a kind of hypnotic mesmerizing that keeps them in the relationship LONG after they know they should have left.

Because of this intense bonding, mental confusion, pathological attachment and a hypnotic connection, the woman’s grief is likely to be HUGE. This is often confusing to her because she has suffered so much damage by the time she leaves that she thinks she should be ‘relieved’ to simply be out of the relationship. But when the paralyzing grief mounts, she is aggravated with herself for being in so much pain and grief over the ending of something so ‘sick’ to her.

Lots of women are confused as to ‘who’ or ‘what’ it is they are actually grieving over. Grief can seem so ‘elusive’—a haunting feeling that is like a grey ghost but can’t be nailed down to actually ‘what’ the loss is.

The end of any relationship (even a pathological one) is a loss. Within the ending of the relationship is a loss of many elements. There is a loss of the ‘dream’ of partnership or togetherness, the loss of a shared future together, as well as the loss that maybe he would someday ‘get it together’ or actually ‘love you.’ When the relationship ends, so does the dream of being loved (even if he is technically not capable of truly loving anyone). There is a loss of your plans for the future—maybe that was buying a home, having children, or taking a big trip. There is the loss of shared parenting (if that occurred), loss of income, loss of being touched or held, loss of sex.

Although a lot of women may actually see a lot of these hopes and dreams as ‘illusions,’ it still constitutes a loss and women are often surprised at the kinds of things they find themselves grieving over.

Some women lose their pets in the breakup, or their house or career. Some lose their children, their friends, her relatives or his. Some have to relocate to get away from him because of his dangerousness, so they lose their community, roots, and home.

No matter what it is you perceive you no longer have… it’s a loss—and when you have loss you have grief. People spend a lot of time trying to stay on the perimeter of grief—trying to avoid it and stay away from the pain. But grief is the natural way to resolve conflict and loss. It’s the body’s way of ridding the mind and soul of ongoing pain. It’s an attempt at rebalancing one’s mind and life. Grief is a natural process that is given to you as a pain management tool. Without grief there would never be a way of moving through pain. You would always just remain stuck in the feelings and you would always feel the same.

Don’t avoid grief. While no one likes grief it’s important to allow yourself to feel the feelings and the pain. To suppress it, deny it, or avoid it will mean you will never work through it. I don’t know anyone who wants to live in this kind of pain.  There is only one way through the pain of grief and that’s through the middle of it. There are no shortcuts, quick routes or other ways ‘around’ the pain and grief. There is only through it—like a wilderness. But on the other side of it is the promise of healing, hope and a future.

Don’t judge your grief. What hurts, hurts. Even if it doesn’t make sense to you (he was horrible, why am I grieving HIM?)—it’s your body’s way of moving through it, so let it. Get help if you need it—counseling, group, medication, a grief group—whatever it is you need.

Don’t set a predetermined ‘time’ that you think you should be ‘over it.’ It probably takes longer than you think it will or you want it to. But that’s how it is—grief takes its time.

Grief can look like depression, anxiety, PTSD or a lot of other types of symptoms and sometimes it’s hard to know where one starts and the other one ends. That’s because you oftentimes aren’t having one or the other, you are having some of both.

Journal your losses, talk about them, tell others, get help when you need it. (We’re here too!!) Most of all, know that grief is a God-sent natural way of working through the pain so you can move on.

 

(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know.  The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships.  Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions.  See the website for more information.)

 

© www.saferelationshipsmagazine.com