Frozen Tears: Psychodrama in the Resolution of Trauma and Grief By Tian Dayton PhD, TEP
“The deepest pain has no words,” echoes the ancient Chinese proverb. Today’s trauma theorists, it would seem, agree. Time stands still and so do we when something frightening is happening that doesn’t fit into our framework for “normal.” We freeze like a deer in the headlights- locked in a trauma response that was coded into us from the beginning of survival, from the earliest development of the human brain.
Relationship ruptures or losses whether of a spouse, a secures family unit, or a period in one’s life, can result in symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder PTSD (Van der Kolk, 1994, see “Symptoms of Trauma and Addiction”). Psychic numbing, along with the fight, flight, freeze responses associated with traumatic experience, can render us unable to respond coherently to what may be happening around us. The urges to run or fight along with feelings of disorientation, shutting down, or loss of connection with our inner world, if they persist through time, can make it difficult to conduct successful intimate relationships. When we rupture deep limbic or emotional bonds that have imprinted themselves on our neural systems we can feel “shattered” or “fragmented” making it difficult to pull the lost pieces of self together into a coherent whole. We may have trouble locating and describing our feelings because we have lost access to them due to the psychic numbing, dissociation or memory loss that often accompany trauma. Intense emotions such as sadness, that are an inevitable part of grieving our losses, can make us feel like we’re “falling apart” all over again and consequently we resist the grief process so necessary for healing.
Living with addiction is inevitably traumatizing. The chaos, neglect, abuse, or dramatic shifts between the sober and using world that often accompany addiction, affect both the addict and those close to the addict in ways that can become profound and pervasive. These dynamics alter our perception of normal, forcing us to make sense of two different realities each of which has its own code of ethics, morality and rules of engagement. The thinking, feeling, behavior, and emotional atmosphere are different for each world and often nearly impossible to integrate into a coherent whole. We never know where to find firm ground to stand on. We, “walk on eggshells” hold our breath and “wait for the other shoe to drop.” In short we become hyper vigilant constantly scanning our environment for signs of danger or a repeated rupture of our sense of safety and security.
Why trauma memories don’t get thought about
The part of our brain that responds to trauma developed early in evolution, in order to keep us safe from danger. The cortex, where we do much of our reasoning, critical thinking and longrange planning was an evolutionary “add on.” Consequently when we’re shocked or frozen in fear, critical thinking is greatly reduced. Memories may get stored without reasoning and rational thought attached to them, without being placed into an overall context or framework. “Flash frozen” they lie in wait for a stimulus to trigger them back to the surface. Yelling, violence, chaos, criticism, humiliation or something as seemingly subtle as a change in eye movement or vocal tone can make a previously traumatized person react with an intensity that has little to do
with the situation around them and much to do with what traumatized them originally. “If it’s hysterical, it’s historical.” The trauma survivor is reacting to the trigger situation with an intensity of emotion that belongs to another time and place which makes whatever is happening in the present confusing and difficult to work out. We’re projecting our distorted thinking and our emotional pain from a past situation onto a situation in the present. This constellation of PTSD symptoms, along with the pain they continue to create in our current lives through this...
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