How to recover from childhood trauma…a case study and strategies

Coming soon (April 2020):

Recovery from childhood Trauma:

How I Healed my Heart and Mind

And how you can heal yourself

Jim Byrne, DCoun FISPC

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Published by the Institute for E-CENT Publications, 2020.

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Foreword

“Childhood is a nightmare”.

Sheldon Kopp (1976)[i].

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“Shadows of the past sometimes contaminate the present and narrow down the future for all of us. The purpose of my self therapy techniques is to confront the past and put it in its place.  Only then are we released to live the present more fully and grow into a richer future, able to use more of our true potential”.

Muriel Schiffman (1967) [ii].

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Introductory comments

Front cover,1It has famously been said that “childhood is a nightmare”, and many of us find that to be an accurate description of what we lived through.  And those nightmares often tend to blight our adult lives, unless and until we do our therapy work to process the undigested experiences.

Life can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards.  And, in the early years of childhood, we have little knowledge or wisdom to guide us.  Actually, we are mainly guided, internally, by our emotions (or ‘affects’, or feelings), while we are regulated externally by the recognized need to adapt to our parents’ demands of us, in order to keep them on our side, and thus to survive.

Some parents are more loving than others; and some are better parented than others.  And thus the quality of your childhood and my childhood experiences could differ significantly – depending upon how our parents treated us. Some parents treat their children wonderfully well; while others are incapable of offering anything but truly, nightmarish abuse.

The quality of any person’s life can be impaired, for the whole of their life, by their early childhood experiences.  And it is certainly true that, whatever adaptations you made to your parents, in order to get along with them, and to thereby survive, become permanent features of your personality, and determine how you relate to all other humans through the rest of your life.  The only hope you have of changing your family-determined personality, is:

Dr-Jim-Byrne8 (2)(1) to go into psychotherapy or counselling; or:

(2) to have some very fortunate curative relationships with friends and/or lovers, which is less certain than professional therapy. Or:

(3) if you can figure out how to revisit and process your childhood, in the form of journal writing, or reflective writing, which is a form of self-therapy.  (See Muriel Schiffman’s 1967 book: Self Therapy – Techniques for personal growth)[iii].

And, unless you change your family-determined personality, whatever interpersonal and emotional problems you had as a teenager at home will still be plaguing you decades later!

The healing process involves revisiting your childhood, in imagination, and digesting those experiences which had been impossible for you to process when you were a little child.  Here is an illustration of that insight:

A case study of self-healing using writing therapy

Back cover,2Muriel Shiffman was a young mother of a two-year-old child, stuck at home in a city apartment, back in the 1960’s. She had had an unhappy childhood, and now she was the seriously-depressed mother of a child who was distressed by her mother’s withdrawn depressions.

Muriel could not afford to see a therapist, and so she set out to see if she could develop a system of self-therapy to cure her depression, if only for the sake of her child.  So she began writing about how she felt, and, in the process, she “…stumbled on the key to self therapy”.

This is how she explains her learning:

“I learned to feel painful emotions (which) I had been avoiding all my life.  I explored attitudes and relationships that forced me to feel rage and grief and anxiety, and I did a great deal of crying.  For two long years I unearthed a hidden part of my life, and suffered and then it suddenly dawned on me that my old, recurrent depression was gone.  Somewhere along the way I had lost it, and it has never come back”.

Muriel had successfully ‘completed’ (or processed) her previously denied or buried traumatic experiences from her early childhood.  One of the things she discovered was this: In our family of origin, we are taught (directly or indirectly) by our parents that some emotions are allowed, and some are outlawed.  When we begin to feel an outlawed emotion, we are trained and rewarded for substituting a pseudo-emotion (or ‘racket emotion’) in its place. Then, as we grow older, we tend to feel those pseudo-emotions (which cause us pain, but do not serve as helpful guides to appropriate actions in our life).  When we go back and clean up our childhood experiences, we get rid of those pseudo-emotions, and retrieve our authentic emotional intelligence, which was buried in our undigested, nightmarish childhoods.

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My refinement of earlier systems of self-therapy

I have built upon Muriel Schiffman’s method of self-therapy, or self-analysis, and added in a lot of modern research on writing therapy, from people like Dr James Pennebaker, Gilly Bolton, Julia Cameron, Philippa Perry, Colin Lago, Jeannie Wright, and others[iv].

And I have used a good deal of writing therapy to heal my own childhood nightmares.

There is now a lot of scientific evidence that writing therapy heals people, physically and mentally. (See published sources in the End Notes[v]).

Keeping a diary, or a journal, or writing on a regular basis, has been shown in scientific studies to be good for your physical health and your emotional well-being: (Esterling, L’Abate, Murray, and Pennebaker, 1999; and Pennebaker, 2002).

In my book about how to write a new life for yourself – Byrne (2018) – I wrote about the benefits of writing therapy like this:

Writing therapy allows the writer to digest old, unprocessed memories of difficult experiences, without having to risk sharing them with another person.  Writing tacks between the memories stored on the right side of the brain, and the narrative-creating abilities of the left hemisphere.  Thus it can help to surface old material that has been buried out of sight for a long time, but which is causing emotional or physical problems from non-conscious levels of mind.  And in the process, we re-frame old decisions and interpretations, and make a new narrative which is more self-supporting and less distressing.

Front cover,1Writing therapy can also be helpful in processing the problems of the present moment, and creating well-thought-out plans for the future.

Perry (2012) describes a range of physical and emotional gains that people make when they keep a diary in which they write about their lives.

– They need less medical attention;

– They are admitted to hospital less; and spend less time there when they are.

– Their immune systems function better; and

– Their liver function is improved.

– Also, their moods and emotional self-management improves.

According to Gail Noppe-Brandon (2018)[vi], who practices as a narrative therapist:

“I feel that the work (of autobiographical writing) has been successful when clients are fluent in (understanding and expressing) what they’ve lived, without shame – when they understand and can articulate how it affected them, and what they now want, and are able to speak what they want to others…”

For myself, I think the main benefit of writing therapy is the facilitation of a better, clearer, felt sense of where I come from, and where I am going; with clarity about what has happened in my life; but with the stings and soreness withdrawn from the older stories of my trials and tribulations: because they have been fully processed; digested; understood; and re-framed.

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About this book

Back cover,2This book begins by describing my own journey, from being a victim of childhood trauma to being a fully healed, happy, healthy and emotionally intelligent individual.

If you study Parts 1 and 2, (which include the stories of my personal origins and my relationship problems with my mother) – plus Part 3, (which teaches you how to digest your own childhood trauma or distorting experiences) – you will greatly improve the quality of your emotional and relational life.

You will become happier and healthier, and more at ease in your skin.

The best place to begin is by reading the Introduction, below.

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I wish you every success for this important journey of self-discovery!

Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

Hebden Bridge, March 2020

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Contents

Foreword……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 3

Introduction………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 12

PART ONE: Emotions, narrative plots, & my story of personal origins…………………… 18

Summary………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 18

Chapter 1: The narrative turn………………………………………………………………………………. 20

Chapter 2: A Sample Narrative…………………………………………………………………………….. 28

  1. Summary…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 28
  2. The setting of the scene………………………………………………………………………………. 28
  3. My Story of Origins: Thrown into a loveless life as an outsider……………………. 29

REFERENCES FOR PART ONE……………………………………………………………………………. 44

PART TWO: A Deeper Analysis of an Individual Life Gone Wrong…………………………. 48

Summary………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 48

Chapter 3: The Story of Relationship – Or coming to terms with my mother (and father)         50

  1. Preamble…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 50
  2. Introduction……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 53
  3. Earlier attempts to complete my relationship with my mother……………………. 56
  4. The psychological birth of the infant…………………………………………………………… 61
  5. Echoes from the life of Bruce……………………………………………………………………… 67

Postscript to Section 5: The Brick Man and the Big Baby………………………………… 72

  1. Recent writing therapy on my relationship with my mother……………………….. 74

Postscript to Section 6……………………………………………………………………………………. 79

  1. Recent Gestalt chair work with my mother…………………………………………………. 82

Postscript No.1: Section 7………………………………………………………………………………. 85

Postscript No.2: Section 7………………………………………………………………………………. 86

  1. Repression of disturbed experiences…………………………………………………………… 89
  2. The impact of my relationship with my mother on later relationships with women 90

Postscript to Section 9……………………………………………………………………………………. 95

  1. Applying the Six Window Model to my mother…………………………………………. 98
  2. Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………………… 102

Key Learning Points from Part Two……………………………………………………………….. 105

REFERENCES FOR PART TWO…………………………………………………………………………. 109

PART THREE: How to heal your own heart and mind…………………………………………. 112

Introduction…………………………………………………………………………………………………. 112

Quick, introductory tutorial on therapeutic writing……………………………………… 113

Chapter 4: Quick Guidelines for Doing Your Own Writing Therapy…………………….. 118

Prelude…………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 118

  1. Introduction……………………………………………………………………………………………… 119

2(a) Initial guidelines…………………………………………………………………………………….. 122

2(b) Overcoming your resistance to writing…………………………………………………. 127

3 Dealing with emotional difficulties…………………………………………………………….. 129

  1. Begin in a small way………………………………………………………………………………….. 133
  2. Focus on cause, effect and on your feelings……………………………………………… 134
  3. The Pennebaker scientific tradition…………………………………………………………… 135
  4. Further clarification………………………………………………………………………………….. 138
  5. Phillipa Perry´s insights…………………………………………………………………………….. 139

Chapter 5: Writing therapeutic, autobiographical stories………………………………….. 146

  1. Introduction……………………………………………………………………………………………… 146
  2. The problems of writing autobiographical stories…………………………………….. 150
  3. A personal illustration………………………………………………………………………………. 151
  4. A second personal illustration…………………………………………………………………… 154
  5. Writing your own story of origins…………………………………………………………….. 158

Chapter 6: Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………….. 160

References…………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 162

Appendix A: The Nine Windows Model of E-CENT………………………………………………. 164

A powerful way to re-frame and re-think your problems……………………………… 164

Preamble………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 164

Appendix B: How to understand and manage human emotions……………………….. 174

End Notes………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 238

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[i] Kopp, S.B. (1976) If you meet the Budha on the road, kills him! The pilgrimage of psychotherapy patients. London: Bantam Books.

[ii] Schiffman, M. (1967) Self Therapy: Techniques for personal growth. Menlo Park, Calif: Self Therapy Press.

[iii] Schiffman, M. (1967) Self Therapy: Techniques for personal growth. Menlo Park, Calif: Self Therapy Press.

[iv] Bolton, G. (1998) Writing or pills: therapeutic writing in primary care. In C. Hunt and F. Sampson (eds) The Self on the Page: Theory and Practice of Creative Writing in Personal Development.  London: Jessica Kingsley.

Bolton, G. (1999a) The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing – Writing Myself.  London: Jessica Kingsley.

Bolton, G. (1999b) Every poem breaks a silence that had to be overcome: The therapeutic power of poetry writing.  Feminist Review, 62:  118-132.

Bolton, G. (2018) Dr Gillie Bolton’s Biography.  Online blog: http://www.gilliebolton.com/ ?page _id= 161. Accessed: 19th April 2018.

Bolton, G., Allan, H. and Drucquer, H. (2004) Writing for reflective practice.  In: Bolton, G., Howlett, S., Lago, C. and Wright, J.K. (eds.) Writing Cures: an introductory handbook of writing in counselling and therapy.  Hove, East Sussex: Brunner-Routledge.

Bolton, G., Howlett, S., Lago, C. and Wright, J.K. (eds.) (2004) Writing Cures: an introductory handbook of writing in counselling and therapy.  Hove, East Sussex: Brunner-Routledge.

Cameron, J. (1992) The Artist’s Way: A spiritual path to higher creativity.  London: Souvenir Books.

Cameron, J. (2007) Floor Sample: A creative memoir.  New York: Tarcher/Penguin.

Perry, P. (2012) How to Stay Sane.  London: Macmillan.

Lago, C. (2004) ‘When I write, I think’: Personal uses of writing by international students.  In: Bolton, G., Howlett, S., Lago, C. and Wright, J.K. (eds.) Writing Cures: an introductory handbook of writing in counselling and therapy.  Hove, East Sussex: Brunner-Routledge.

Wright, J.K. (1999) Uses of writing to counter the silence of oppression: Counselling women at the University of the South pacific.  Pacific Health Dialog, 6(2): 305-310.

Wright, J.K. (2000) Using writing in counselling women at work.  Changes, 18(4):  264-273.

Wright, J.K. (2004) The passion of science, the precision of poetry.  In: Bolton, G., Howlett, S., Lago, C. and Wright, J.K. (eds.) Writing Cures: an introductory handbook of writing in counselling and therapy.  Hove, East Sussex: Brunner-Routledge.

[v] Please see the following sources for evidence of the efficacy of writing therapy in healing physical and mental health issues:

Esterling, B.A., L’Abate, L., Murray, E.J. and Pennebaker, J.W. (1999) Empirical foundations for writing in prevention and psychotherapy: Mental and physical health outcomes.  Clinical Psychology Review, 19(1):  79-96.

Etherington, K. (2000) Narrative Approaches to Working with Adult Male Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse: The Client’s, the Counsellor’s and the Researcher’s Story.  London: Jessica Kingsley.

Francis, M.E. and Pennebaker, J.W. (1992) Putting stress into words: the impact of writing on physiological, absentee, and self-reported emotional well-being measures.  American Journal of Health Promotion, 6(4):  280-287.

Pennebaker, J.W. (1990) Opening Up: The healing power of confiding in others.  New York: Avon Books.

Pennebaker, J.W. (ed) (1995) Emotion, Disclosure and Health.  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Pennebaker, J.W. (1997) Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process.  Psychological Science, 8(3):  162.

Pennebaker, J.W. (2002) Writing about emotional events: From past to future.  In: S.J. Lepore and J.M. Smythe (eds) The Writing Cure: How expressive writing promotes health and emotional well-being.  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Pennebaker, J.W. and Beall, S.K. (1986) Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease.  Journal of Abnormal psychology, 93(3):  274-281.

Pennebaker, J. and Evans, J. (2014) Expressive Writing: Words that heal.   Enumclaw, WA, USA: Idyll Arbor, Inc.

Perry, P. (2012) How to Stay Sane.  London: Macmillan.

[vi] Noppe-Brandon, G. (2018) Mindful Listening: Culling and shaping client narratives.  The Neuro-psychotherapist, Vol. 6(1): Pages 14-26.