Discounting the Past

Today I would like to respond to comments made earlier this month on the ‘home’ page here. My first impulse was being saddened by the confusion and despair readers felt by some of my latest post. However, it didn’t take long for me to get excited. Every time someone presents a challenge it gives me – and I suppose everyone – the opportunity to widen our understanding and deepen our insight. So I am very grateful for people to take the time and formulate their opinion and point out that what they are reading is not gelling for them.

It’s a tricky topic, the topic of “it’s just thought”, isn’t it? It’s hard to get one’s head around the fact that the world we experience is rather more a hologram created by our own thinking then a representation of what’s really OUT THERE. Especially when we end up with a badly bruised body or mind by our encounters with “out there”, be it objects or people’s’ actions. That’s however how it is – it’s a biological reality that we can’t grasp what’s out there without processing and interpreting it through our mental filters (history, beliefs, values etc.), through what’s ‘IN HERE’. It doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong or something bad. Experiencing your personal hologram as real is doing exactly what mother nature designed you to do: thinking that your thoughts are real. Everybody operates like that – nobody gets spared!

And don’t think you can outsmart nature. Knowing that your thoughts are not real doesn’t mean that in the heat of the moment you don’t end up thinking your thoughts are real. I’ve never met anybody who catches him/herself all the time and realises the elusiveness of thought. I believe most of the time it even doesn’t matter. Many of our thoughts are of no consequence (I think). “I don’t like coffee with milk”, “I wish I could go skiing in Switzerland”, “I need a rest” … and thousands of thoughts like that have little impact on my state of mind. I don’t tell myself “it’s just thought, it’s not real”. No, I have my coffee without milk. When I start feeling bad, upset, depressed, or anxious, when my state of mind deteriorates, that’s when I would like to be able to check out my thinking. I know, the more I am conscious of it, the better I am becoming in breaking the habit of taking my thoughts for real.

How does that now relate to discounting the past? I think (here we go again – now I am showing you my current hologram!) it has nothing to do with it. The past is the past! What happened has happened. There is no discounting. When bad things like abuse or neglect happen to a child, of course it is affected. The physical bruise from an assault quickly heals – nature and the healing capacity of the body takes care of that. What’s longer lasting is the ‘mental injury’ the child receives through its meaning making processes. We know the child’s brain is not wired fully until early adolescents. It can’t put things into perspective. When dad gives the child a hiding it can’t think “It’s not about me, he got fired from his job today and he hasn’t got good coping skills to deal with his distress”. No, the child thinks “I must be bad for daddy to be so angry with me”. I’ve written about this dynamic a few years ago.

Please, don’t give the child from ‘back then’ or the inner childpart now a hard time for making sense of the abuse the only way it could possibly do. There was no other conclusion possible without the guidance of a caring, understanding adult who could explain the situation in a way the child would understand and affirm this understanding with providing love and care. Like any other human being, the child can not but take its thoughts for real. Detachment from our thinking, something that’s very difficult for adults, is almost impossible for children. The life for the child becomes a predictable path of low mood, low self-worth, and self-fulfilling prophecies… until you STOP.

You don’t honour the past by revisiting it over and over again. All you do is re-breaking a broken leg, preventing the healing process and keeping the pain alive. But that’s not your fault! Most therapists still believe you have to ‘go back and release the suppressed thoughts/feelings’ – an outdated concept that originated in the Freudian time (1856-1939) of steam engines and hydraulics. Today we know from PTSD research that when the traumatic event is left alone, the post traumatic symptoms dissipate quickly due to the self-healing capacity of the mind (equivalent to the healing capacity of the body).

It’s important to understand what happened and how it impacted on the self-concept of the child so that you can now turn to it with love and care, take it metaphorically into your arms and hold it with love, and tell it that IT’S OVER NOW! A frightened child part that has been reliving – and thereby concretising – the abuse in flashbacks and therapy for years may need love and time to fully understand that it is safe now. But don’t underestimate the child! If you are predictable and consistent in your thoughts the child will surprise you with its capacity to move towards wellness.

You are not discounting the past by telling yourself: IT’S OVER! If you are hurting today your thoughts are revisiting the abuse. It signals to you that you need to tell yourself and all other parts of you that it’s over. Today you feel the way you feel because your memory – and the associated feelings about it – have been brought to life via you thinking about it. It signals to you that the task ahead is the task of letting it go! Take this opportunity to turn to your inner world with love, respect, and care and marvel at the wisdom of the human mind.

11 thoughts on “Discounting the Past

  1. VK says:

    The healing a wound metaphor Gudrun used is the best so far in helping me understand all this. I understand now that it is not leaving a wound to fester or bleed, but to tend to it without reopening it. The body is a miraculous healing machine – modern medicine is evolving and many studies are looking at using the bodies’ natural immune system in advancements in the healing of many diseases and injuries. I guess the wisdom here is that researches have found that the body best knows how to heal itself and is becomingly increasingly interested in finding ways to ‘get out of the way’ so the body can do its thing. I believe too that the spirit is a miraculous healing machine when it comes to trauma.

    Many chronic diseases are the result of the body’s immune system mistakenly perceiving that the body is under attack from foreign bodies. A counterattack is then launched an inflammatory response meant to vanquish the intruder. In reality, the immune system has misinterpreted the threat and is actually attacking the body’s own cells and tissue. I wonder if PSTD is my psychological immune system in the same sort of confusion especially as ‘I’ seem to be the one mostly under attack from myself.

    How to rewire the psychological immune system so that it realises it is no longer under attack, for me, is the million dollar question. How to help different parts and myself realise that they/we are all in the same body and to stop attacking ourselves would be the billion dollar question. How to ‘get out of the way’ so the spirit can do it’s healing thing, I guess that would be priceless.

  2. :) says:

    What you have said really is what you’ve been saying all along it just is heard at different times. “Love all of yourself every day, be gentle with you from the heart.
    When this doesn’t happen which it wont always, because that is just the way it is, notice it and move on.
    If I’m angry, sad, hurt, upset and so on…. listen to myself and nurture me The more I understand myself the more I stop regretting the way I did things saying “I didn’t do this right god I’m thick” and all of that rubbish.
    I am finding the more I know about the way I interpret things I take in and see comes from my filters of past experiences, past experiences are my learning, that’s what I have
    I am changing that by understanding, loving and being aware of my thinking, my feelings will then tell me by my reaction to whats going on for me- I START LISTENING instead of rebelling.
    Its pretty much like the BIG word intergration- Intergration of the mind.
    Gudrun your starting to sound like a 70s guru lol 🙂

    • gudrunfrerichs says:

      :), if a 70s guru means having common sense, I am happy to go along with that statement. Common sense dictates that if someone is distressed, you don’t kick them, you provide compassionate comfort. That goes for people around you, yourself, and your inside parts. It sounds you are well on your way! Take care!

  3. Lothlorien says:

    As a side note, when you referred to the experience of “rebreaking your leg”, you are right. If the therapy is not done right, the client is merely retraumatized over and over again. All trauma therapy is supposed to be conducted within the client’s window of tolerance, which means they should not feel shut off from their feelings, nor should they feel flooded by them. Flooding just fires off the amygdala and causes the brain structures to loop more, retraumatizing the client. Doing so does not allow the trauma to “pass through” or the brain’s natural self regulating structures to function properly.

    I know I have been very technical here, and aside form that I can only speak for myself in that I would be no where NEAR where I am today without the trauma processing I have done in my therapy.


  4. Lothlorien says:

    I have not yet read your previous posts, but you had me through most of this post. I agree we all see things through a filter as you mentioned. I don’t believe that negates things, and I’m not really of the “hologram” philosophy, but I do agree that our perceptions of the world are skewed by our experiences in life and the early beliefs we established. This is at the core of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I think, for me, it has been important to become familiar with the ways in which my past taints my thoughts and feelings. There is a certain theme to them, and there are certain “tapes” that run through my thoughts. Part of healing has been aquiring the ability to recognize those for what they are and the fact they they are not necessarily a reality, or at least not a reality in the here and now. However, another part of my healing has been aquiring the ability to distinguish this from thoughts and feelings that, though not real in a concrete sense, are real for me and are actually an accurate perception of a situation. Knowing when to go with my thoughts and feelings and whento reject them as “old stuff” is an important skill I have learned in my therapy.

    Where I really disagree is with the implication that if we just leave it alone, our bodies/mind will naturally heal itself. While this is most definitely true for many people, and research I have done in my MSW program clearly points to the fact that statistically most people who experience a traumatic event do heal on their own, those who go on to develop actual PTSD do not experience this. Those who heal on their own in a relatively short time do not receive a diagnosis of PTSD. Most of the research shows that in people with bonafide PTSD, there is actually impaired functioning in the amygdala and the hippocampus of the brain, which for those of you who are unfamiliar are thearts of the brain that handle the fight/flight response and the ability to stabilize that response. In individuals who “heal on their own” the traumatic event works its way naturally through these areas of the brain, but in individuals who develop PTSD, things get stuck and form a looping action through these two brain structures and do NOT process all the way through. On top of this, long term exposure to trauma actually impairs the functioning of these parts of the brain. Research has also shown that treatment not only aids in the processing (the “unsticking”), but also can improve hippocampal functioning overall for the client. Other studies are also showing that in addition to treating trauma, if the client has a dissociative disorder, failing to treat THAT directly yields less than optimal results for the client (Search DID TOP Study on Google). I really wish I had the references handy to post here, but I don’t. I’m sure, though, that a search through the ISSTD website, the Journal Trauma and Dissociation, or any EMDR or Sensorimotor Psychotherapy site/book will echo what I’m saying.


    • gudrunfrerichs says:

      Your thoughts about trauma processing are surely shared by many professionals and researchers and represent current standard practice. Let me act as the devils advocate here. People used to believe the earth a flat and you fall into ??? when you go over the edge. The problem with research and practice is that people get what they are looking for. More often than not current standard practice keeps clients for years in distress. Even with working within the therapeutic window. That is pretty sad – and working for over 20 years with survivors of severe trauma I experienced it doesn’t have to take forever. I am very cautious to follow the assumptions of professionals and researchers who seem to be extremely keen to re-define emotional struggle as a psycho-biological problem. There is too much self-interest in the mixture.

      “Leaving the trauma alone” is not meant to read “ignore”. Like any other injury it requires to be well looked after. When I talk about ‘well looked after’ I mean attending to the wound, cleaning, sterilising, bandaging, and then leaving it alone to heal. Don’t scratch it open all the time. The healing will take place through love and understanding. That is the same for trauma survivors with and without DID.

    • Sam says:

      I agree with Lothlorien – it is now well proven and easily visible through fMRI scans that there is often pysical results of long term exposure to trauma, and that once this occurs, it inhibits the ability to process traumatic material in a normal way. Until that is addressed in therapy, the loop Lotherlorien talks about just keeps repeating over and over, which means that, although the wound appears to heal from the outside, inside is still injured.

      I believe you are right Gudrun, in saying that people get what they are looking for from research. However, I dont believe that current standard pracice keeps clients in distress for years. If that is happening, maybe the therapists should be questioning their style of working. Addressing traumatic memories is never a happy experience. However, it should not necessarily be years of distress either. Im not sure either about re-defining emotional struggles as a psycho-biological problem, although maybe I misunderstood what you meant. The emotional struggles are real for the individual in the moment (I dont subscribe to the hologram theory either sorry, but agree that emotions are a very subjective experience, unique to each person in any given moment, and are not at all concrete). I believe that the psycho-biological problems which can result from long term or severe trauma are a seperate issue from the emotional struggles, which need to be corrected before the emotional struggles can fully be resolved.

      I think too, that it is important to look at the causes of PTSD, as the treatment can differ significantly depending on the cause. I noted in the research you referenced that it was referring to PTSD as a result of disasters, which, although the same diagnosis, has a significantly more successful treatment outcome than PTSD which resulted from long term exposure to severe sexual assault as a child. I personally alos believe (although I dont know of any research which backs this up) that the difference between public and private trauma also makes a significant difference to the treatment outcomes for PTSD. Disasters are generally very public – affected people have the sympathy and support of their communities, which potentially aids in the healing process and may lead to minimising PTSD symptoms. Victims of child abuse often work through their trauma with only their therapist for support, and suffer the impacts in isolation the rest of the time. This must also imapct on the treatment outcomes.

  5. gudrunfrerichs says:

    Hi Sam, I can see where you are coming from. In order for me to follow your statement I have to accept the pre-supposition that the abused part is separate from the ‘thinker’ that wrote the comment, that the abused child part has no access to the knowing the whole person holds. I am not saying that this is not exactly how it is, I simply don’t know for sure.

    My belief is that it may appear that distinct parts are separate and don’t know, but they are all part of a whole, being ‘operationalised’ by the same brain and memory system. My fear is that we create a reality of separateness by thinking of separate parts.

    In the past I have often ‘annoyed’ DID clients with my assumption that parts can talk to each other because they live in the same head. Over time they came to share my belief and were able to share thoughts and information.

    • Sam says:

      Abused parts are often, especially pre therapy, seperate from, and often ignorant of, the whole person.

      I agree with your belief of all parts being a part of a whole, and the process of gaining that awareness, for each part individually, paves the way for co-consiciousness and potentially integration for those with DID.

      And you are correct – parts can talk to each other – but in order to do that, first they need awareness of each other, and the ability to trust, which frequently means identifying each part’s unique belief system, ascertaining where that originated from, then finding a way to prove to that part that there are alternative ways of being in the world, alternative belief systems, etc

  6. Sam says:

    I think though, that for frightened child parts to understand what happened in the past, that it is impossible for them to do that without revisiting it in the first place, to be able to understand it for themselves. Abused parts trust very slowly, and that lack of trust extends to other parts. They need to see for themselves before they are able to believe, which, to a point, involves a certain amount of re-visiting to be able to see for themselves where their individual belief systems have been impacted by the environment they were forced to be in

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