Untying Trauma Knots

Excerpt from Chapter 10 - Psychology

Two conditions increase our willingness to face our painful experiences. First, as with my dog Pol, the presence of someone who cares (like a friend, spouse or therapist) may provide enough safety to face particularly fearful traumas. Second, the ability to face trauma is improved by the lowering of defenses, as Pol's were lowered by the anesthesia. In humans, the lowering of defenses can also occur in hypnosis, in therapy, in addiction withdrawal, from lack of sleep and from lack of food.

HEALING TIP: To work on certain personal problems more effectively, with or without a paid therapist, try to create either or both of the conditions discussed above: increased safety and/or lower defenses. For example, a close friend might be willing to be there for you, and you could not eat for a few hours before attempting to start the personal work. I warn you, however, that close friends and spouses are suitable for some problems and wrong for others. If it feels right to you, try to enlist one of them for assistance. However, I do not suggest investment either in their support or in the outcome of your attempt. For often we have such close people in our lives precisely because we have matching hang-ups. Just because you want to deal with a particular hang-up or problem does not mean that they do. They may strongly resist any change.

The knowledge that trauma knots are of varying complexity and strengths can be useful. As an example, consider a person with many similar experiences such as severe and mild abandonments over the course of a lifetime. Trauma knots associated with abandonment will probably be very resistant to loosening for this person. Untying those abandonment knots may seem impossible. If this trauma-knot theory is correct, then therapies that tend to focus upon only one or two strands of the trauma knot should often prove ineffective in providing permanent relief. This is the case, for many therapies these days talk of "managing problems" or "managing anger" instead of resolving problems. For example, gaining insight into the pattern of past abandonments using some insight-oriented therapy may help make us aware of why we are stressed when someone close to us goes away for a month. However, this insight may do nothing to alleviate our stress. I call this "suffering smarter," but it is not my goal with my therapy clients.

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© 2008 by Thayer White
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Excerpt from Be Your Own Therapist: "The concept of a trauma knot may be useful, a knot in which words, emotions, sensations and thoughts are all intertwining strands within the knot. Depending upon the size and complexity of the knot, loosening one or two strands may or may not completely untie the knot (permanent healing)."