Disclaimer: PTSD is not something anyone without training should face alone. This blog contains descriptions that may trigger anxiety or fear, especially in PTSD sufferers. If you suffer from PTSD and have learned tapping from your EFT Practitioner, counselor, or therapist, please tap while you are reading the following post; if you are unfamiliar with tapping, please postpone reading this blog until you have engaged a counselor, EFT Practitioner, or certified/licensed therapist who uses this technique. Winter Blooms is an educational website only and is in no way meant to replace a trained EFT practitioner, counselor, or therapist. To find an EFT Practitioner near you, visit the AAMET website, the EFT Universe website, the Tapping Solution website, or contact Jane at 802-533-9277 or firstname.lastname@example.org for support in transforming your PTSD experiences.
Please see the August 3 and 10, 2014 blog posts for the introduction and second part of this three-part exploration of tapping to transform PTSD symptoms.
One of the most surprising discoveries I made during my PTSD recovery involved shame. Logically, I understood the deep trust violations I had the opportunity to repair, but in my shame discoveries, logic couldn’t help me. To be helpless and traumatized at any age did not appear to have any relationship to the two kinds of shame most of us experience: productive shame and toxic shame. We usually learn very early about productive shame. It is that sick feeling in the gut that kicks in to support matters of conscience. When we know something violates our code of ethics, such as stealing, but do it anyway, the consequential shame reminds us that we have gone against our inner guides concerning right and wrong actions. In these uncomfortable situations our feelings of unease – in the gut, in the heart, in the throat – point the way back to feeling good by repairing what we have done wrong and doing what we think and feel is right. We need what I call productive shame, especially when we are young and our values are untried or forming. Toxic shame, on the other hand, humiliates and cripples us emotionally and must be neutralized before we feel free to develop lives of our choosing. Tapping is very effective in neutralizing toxic shame.
In most cases, toxic shame develops when we are shamed by others – caregivers, teachers, neighbours, and peers – usually as a method of controlling our behaviours by diminishing our sense of self respect and power. Our culture, too, cultivates general feelings of toxic shame by constructing what are advertised as must-have products and outcomes that make us feel less-than when we compare our personal reality to these manufactured, profit-driven standards of wealth, beauty, and personal satisfaction. The shame that is associated with PTSD is certainly toxic, but its sources are not so easily identified. With its emphasis on curiosity and its ability to create emotional safety, tapping can help us to tease out the connections we unconsciously make when we are traumatized, connections that may lead to toxic shame.
The toxic shame that develops with trauma is difficult to identify because it defies logic. By contrast, when addressing learning traumas for example, it is easy to see the logical connection between the freshman English teacher who told us we were illiterate idiots and our terrors of writing, or between the TV ad for an anti-wrinkle cream that uses a twenty-two-year-old model to sell the product to women in their fifties, sixties, and beyond and who, upon seeing the ad over and over again, are subliminally manipulated into making absurd comparisons. The toxic shame of trauma is not so easy to identify because the circumstances of our traumas are, in most cases, completely out of our control. For example, when we hear about violent incidents of bombings, domestic murder, childhood neglect and sexual abuse, debasing poverty, and persistent bullying that leads to suicide, those of us with well developed empathetic responses to life’s cruelties inch toward understanding even the most extreme PTSD symptoms. What is often overlooked, however, is the way the sufferers of trauma so frequently blame and shame themselves for what they have experienced; this personal blaming and shaming during and after trauma is the source of PTSD toxic shame.
When I first had a hint of my own deep shame regarding the traumatizing experience of quarantine and parental loss when I was two (see August 3 and 10, 2014 blog posts), I was tempted to deny it. Why would I develop a sense of shame when, as a two-year-old, I suffered the horrors of a seven month medical regime of isolation? Surely I would blame the “system”, or my parents, and even God, my logic told me. As I inched my way into my trauma’s physical and emotional heart, I discovered a surprising connection between my persistent sense of personal shame and ordinary, everyday vulnerability.
In my case, I began by tapping on each shameful experience as it presented itself – each school humiliation, each relationship perplexity, each professional mystery, and each free-floating anxiety attack – using the Personal Peace Procedure (see Gary Craig’s www.emofree.com for an in-depth introduction to this procedure). In these daily meditations, I eventually found the words to express what my body had learned during my separation from my family: it is shameful to be vulnerable, to have needs, to be helpless. I remember the day I made this insightful discovery very clearly.
It was an early summer morning in 2006. The sun flooded in through the window behind the sofa where I sat, casting the shadow of a lilac bush over my shoulders and onto the floor. Seeing the bush’s shadow around the shadow of my head and shoulders provided me with a metaphor for my life. In that moment, each leaf represented all my life experiences. Some leaf shadows were long and distorted because of the sun’s angle while others were perfectly heart shaped. This image of contrasting shapes helped me to unlock the mysteries of past worthlessness feelings, reckless behaviours, and mystifying decisions embedded within my otherwise fulfilling life.
Because I have always been a story person, I set about telling myself the hidden stories I imagined were embedded in the various toxic-shame experiences over the course of my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. This was not a quick-fix process by any means; I began this intense process of toxic shame neutralization in the spring of 2006 and continued to work on these issues daily for the rest of that year, in each session working on specific incidents related to larger themes. For example, one of my most toxic sources of shame involved a series of school traumas I was now able to relate to the shame of feeling helpless in the hospital when I was two. As I progressed through elementary school, I couldn’t ask for help in understanding directions or tell anyone how my dissociative behaviours hi-jacked my ability to concentrate. The insight linking my hospital helplessness to my later educational difficulties helped to resolve the many mysteries of my uneven school progress.
Now, so many years later, whenever wisps of the old shame come up to remind me of my wonderfully complex past, I create a story to tap through because my conscious, accurate two-year-old memories do not exist. I am happy to tell you that a lack of specific memory doesn’t matter when resolving the PTSD that settles into our lives after trauma. The most important part of healing is identifying the feelings associated with what might have happened. In case this sounds utterly bogus as an approach to neutralizing PTSD symptoms, we have the work of neurologist Oliver Sacks and many other researchers to support us in our creative approach to resolving trauma and PTSD.
Dr. Sacks is well known for his pioneering work, Awakenings, a memoir that describes the astonishing temporary recovery of catatonic patients believed to be out of touch with consensual reality. Because of his research, nurses, doctors, aides, family members, and friends of people who are under anesthetic, catatonic, or comatose now speak to the person, offering words of encouragement, love, and inspiration. Anita Moorjani, in Dying to Be Me, recently added her personal description of an ever-present awareness in apparently unconscious people, describing her experience of being in a deep coma during what doctors and family members thought were the final hours of her life. Although she was considered comatose by her medical supporters, she was aware of all that was going on around her and had a deeply spiritual connection to the non-visible world . . . what we call Eternity.
In A Leg to Stand On, Oliver Sacks writes of a physical accident and the neurological consequence of temporarily losing all ownership of his injured leg; in this memoir, he uses the word “blindsight” to describe how his perfectly mended leg became dead to him in much the same way as people who receive a blow to the head experience a scotoma or hole in their field of vision. He explains that despite losing some of their visual field because of a physical trauma or stroke, these people accurately guess the contents of the lost visual field even though they can’t physically see it. I read A Leg to Stand On in the mid-eighties when I was going through my personal therapeutic awakening and found his description of our ability to accurately imagine what we can’t see comforting. On his teaching DVDs, when Gary Craig suggests people “guess” at what happened or how they might have felt when they cannot remember, I believe he is activating a form of blindsight. Because so many of us have been taught to doubt our abilities to say or do the right thing, blindsight offers powerful proof that we all know far more than we believe we know and more than our five senses tell us we know.
Next week, I’ll develop blindsight’s relationship to tapping in greater depth. In the meantime, I wish you well in your tapping endeavours with PTSD symptoms. Loving support from a qualified practitioner, compassion for your traumatized self, and persistence will see you through.
Until next week
Jane Buchan, MA, AAMET Adv. Practitioner, email@example.com, 802-533-9277