Updated on 28th January 2021
Transforming Traumatic Dragons:
How to recover from a history of trauma – using a whole body-brain-mind approach
By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling
Revised, expanded and updated: Coming soon…
Published by the Institute for Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy, in cooperation with KDP-Amazon: Expected by Easter 2021
By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling, January 2021
I wrote this book to help individuals (who had traumatic experiences earlier in life) to be able to digest those traumas, and resolve any negative symptoms of having been traumatized.
This book is designed to help you
– to understand what trauma is;
– the various forms of post-traumatic stress;
– including the nature of complex childhood development trauma;
– and also, most importantly, to help you to recover from your traumatic past.
My major aim is to teach you how to slowly and cautiously process, or digest, old emotional traumas, so they can be healed.
Let us begin by distinguishing emotional trauma from physical trauma.
First let us look at physical trauma: When a child falls from a bicycle shed in a school playground, and can’t stand up and walk properly, concern is shown by their peers.
A teacher is found and a report is made.
The school nurse is called. If she suspects a broken leg, she explains that to the child, and an ambulance is called.
A painkiller is given to the child to reduce the pain.
At the hospital, an x-ray is taken to identify the nature of the problem, and, if there is a break in any bones, the child can be shown the nature of the source of their pain, right there on the x-ray.
Then a plaster-cast – (or some modern equivalent) – is put on the broken limb, to support it during the relatively show, natural healing process.
By contrast, when a child is physically abused by an emotionally damaged parent – by being slapped angrily – and then emotionally abused, by being shouted at, and frightened into some kind of submission or conformity to the parent’s unreasonable wishes – nobody calls the nurse.
A pain is felt by the child; or, rather, two pains. The physical pain from the slap, and the emotional pain, of fear/shame/humiliation.
No painkiller is administered. No ambulance is called. No x-ray is taken. No plaster-cast if fitted. Instead, a little trauma is stored in the child’s body-brain-mind.
A little trauma is a kind of psycho-physical knot in the child’s self-concept. (That is to say, a change in brain-wiring, and a change in hormone balances, and perhaps some muscular tensions). This is a feeling-knot which they cannot process. They don’t have the words to explain the pain to themselves. They may blame themselves for the pain; or assume they are Bad or Ugly, to ‘deserve’ such punishment. Or they may get stuck with unexpressed anger at their persecutor.
When lots of these knots (in the body-brain-mind) accumulate over time, in a cruel family home, and/or in a cruel school system, a significant distortion of the child’s developing personality takes place. These kinds of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) interfere with the child’s capacity to process information; to manage their emotions; to adapt well to people around them; to communicate with those people; and so on[i].
This is called Developmental Trauma; or Complex Trauma; or Complex-PTSD: (See Herman, 1997/2015; and Van der Kolk, 2015)[ii].
Complex-PTSD has to be distinguished from conventional PTSD, which normally seems to be triggered by a single (or circumscribed) incident, such as the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York City, in September 2011; or being raped on a specific occasion, as an adult; or watching a comrade being blown up in a war zone.
Prolonged child abuse (as opposed to quick, brief or short term abuse) produces layers and layers of twisting and gnarling of the mind-brain-body of victims of Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Back in the 1980’s, the creator of Erhard Seminar Training (est), Werner Erhard, drew attention to this kind of “twisting and gnarling” of a child’s psychological state, or personality, in his relationships course. He pointed out that, when such a child gets to their mid-teens, they will predictably “put a layer of peanut butter (or some kind of concealment) over all the twisting and gnarling, so it looks good”.
This ‘peanut butter’ metaphor is meant to communicate that, by the time a traumatized child reaches their teens, they will have created a ‘false self’, to cover over the ‘traumatized self’, so it looks good. (Even though it still feels bad!)
Of course, they don’t know they are traumatized, because “the school nurse” was never called. An “x-ray” was never taken of the psychological wounds. The source of the pain was never labelled, in language, for them.
So they have a lot of cumulative, interpretive experiences of emotional pain, with no storyline; no narrative; and no word labels. So the history of their developmental trauma is hidden from the victim; buried in the basement of their non-conscious brain-mind-body.
Astute observers of this child, (while they are still a child, or when they have grown up), will be able to see, from their behaviour, their posture, their facial expressions, and their general demeanour and social skill performance, that “something is not right” with them. (Despite the layer of “peanut butter” – which is a veneer of false selfhood. And despite their act or ‘public performance’). But the trauma is so buried, and unlabelled, that, even if somebody tried to help, it would most likely not help very much.
For example, if somebody said, “I can see that something went wrong in your earlier life. Please let me help you with that”, this would not necessarily communicate.
The child (as a child or when grown up) would (most likely, and most often) be nonplussed; puzzled; unable to see what was meant; and perhaps even resentful of this ‘psychoanalysis’ of their behaviour or demeanour!
They might even respond angrily or aggressively, and get a ‘clever label’ from a psychiatrist attached to them, which changes nothing for the better, but further stigmatizes the individual, and causes more harm than good.
Victims of childhood trauma are often unable to accept offers of help, because they have no clarity about who they are; or how they show up for others; or how they got to be the unworkably distorted way they undoubtedly are. (And perhaps they cope with the unworkably distorted state of their existence by drinking alcohol; taking drugs; acting out violently, as in a war zone, or street fighting; or self-harming; or ‘going mad’; or comfort eating; or taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety ‘medications’; and other forms of self-medication, denial and drifting).
If you were such a child – a traumatized child – you might eventually wake up to the fact that you keep finding yourself in significant emotional pain, such as depression, anxiety or anger problems; unworkable relationships; or unsatisfying lifestyles; or in financial crises or living in unworkable accommodation situations; or unsatisfactory or unrewarding work.
You might begin to see that these experiences, of having an unhappy, unworkable life, are feedback from the world, telling you that there is something seriously wrong with the twisting and gnarling in the basement of your brain-mind-body, which cannot be wished away by covering it over with a false self; or engaging in denial, distraction or distortion of current experience. Drinking alcohol won’t cure this kind of problem. Nor will snorting cocaine; or having extra sex; or foreign holidays; or business success, or work promotions. Nothing but facing and digesting those experiences will make any significant difference to the quality of your life today!
I was woken up (if only briefly), at the age of twenty-two years, by unpleasant feedback from the world. Total rejection by my peer group; which mirrored the rejection that I’d felt in the school playground for my ten years of public schooling.
I then set out on a long (though intermittent and patchy) journey of self-discovery, and self-healing; which ultimately resulted in “finding the real me”. And discovering my capacity to love and be loved: (but this did not even begin to occur until after the age of thirty years.)
This book is designed to help you to liberate the real you! And to heal your history of traumatic experiences.
Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling, Hebden Bridge, January 2021
 An emotionally undamaged parent, a skilful parent, also has to discipline their children, but they do it in a way that means that whatever shaming of the child is unavoidable in a moment of emergency intervention, is then corrected by ‘rescuing the child from their shame’. (See Daniel Hill, 2015).
 The concept of ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ is defined in Chapter 1, and includes things like being beaten, seeing your mother being beaten, being verbally abused, and so on.
[i] Bessel van der Kolk has been involved in trauma research and treatment since the 1970s; and he has written about the involvement of the body in trauma since at least the early 1980s. See, for examples his 1984 book; and his 1985 article in the journal, Biological Psychiatry), which follow:
Van der Kolk, B. A., (ed.) (1984) Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Psychological and Biological Sequelae. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Van der Kolk, B.A., Greenberg, M., Boyd, H., Krystal, J. (1985) ‘Inescapable shock, neurotransmitters, and addiction to trauma: Toward a psychobiology of post-traumatic stress’. Biological Psychiatry, Vol.20, Issue 3. Pages 314-325. ISSN 0006-3223. https://doi.org/10.1016/0006-3223(85)90061-7. Available Online at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/ science/article/pii/0006322385900617
Abstract (from Van der Kolk, et.al, 1885): ‘Chronic post-traumatic stress has been described as a “physioneurosis” (Kardiner 1941), that is, a mental disorder with both psychological and physiological components…’
Kardiner, A. (1941). The traumatic neuroses of war. National Research Council. https://doi.org/10.1037/10581-000
[ii] Herman, J. (1997/2015) Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: Basic Books. And:
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Viking.
Preface to the Revised Edition, 2021
By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling
Copyright © Jim Byrne, January 2021
Early childhood trauma (like physical and emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and/or serious neglect), and other forms of prolonged trauma (like domestic abuse), affect the very structure of the human brain, and the behaviour of stress hormones in the body. This insight is expressed by Dr Daniel Siegel as follows:
“…(T)raumatic experiences at the beginning of life may have profound effects on the integrative structures of the brain… (A)bused children have abnormal responses of their stress hormone levels[i]… Cortisol (a major stress hormone) is sustained, and elevated levels can become toxic to the brain[ii].”
And, cortisol and other stress hormones are secreted throughout the body when it’s under pressure.
In the first and second editions of this book, we made the mistake of overlooking the role of the body in storing traumatic memories; and the need to involve the body in the resolution of traumatic memories. (This does not mean that counsellors and therapists must have physical contact with their clients – very much to the contrary! It means we must work with the client’s body awareness and breathing; and to promote their involvement in some helpful forms of physical exercise; as well as helping them [when the time is right] to talk and/or to write in ways which gradually, slowly, carefully approach the problem of reinterpreting their traumatic experiences).
This revised, expanded and updated edition is intended to correct that omission (of the body), which was paradoxical, given that our main claim to fame, at the Institute for Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT), is that we “added back the body” to the rational, cognitive and psychodynamic models of the individual client in counselling and therapy: (Byrne, 2019[iii]). The body is the very foundation of the human personality; which is actually a body-brain-mind, as shaped by social experience.
In Chapter 1 below, we want to address the following contextual questions:
- What is trauma?
- What is post-traumatic stress disorder?
- What is Complex-PTSD?
- How widespread is Complex-PTSD?
- What are Adverse Childhood Experiences?
- What are some solutions to Childhood Developmental Trauma or Complex-PTSD?
- The meaning and importance of the concept of Traumatic Dragons.
- And finally, a brief overview of the content of this book.
[i] McGowan et.al. (2009):
McGowan, P.O., Sasaki, A., and D’Alessio, A.C., et.al. (2009). ‘Epigenetic regulation of the glucocorticoid receptor in human brain associates with childhood abuse.’ Nature Neurosciecne, 12, 342-348.
[ii] De Bellis (2005); and Rees (2010)
De Bellis, M.D. (2005). ‘The psychobiology of neglect.’ Child Maltreatment, 10(2), 150-172.
Rees, C.A. (2010). ‘Understanding emotional abuse.’ Archives of Disease in Childhood, 95(1), 59-67.
[iii] Byrne, J. (2019) Discounting Our Bodies: A brief, critical review of REBT’s flaws. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.