Escape from the darkness and confusion of childhood trauma

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Blog post – 6th August 2021

Childhood Developmental Trauma and how to heal yourself

By Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling, and Trauma Survivor

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Introduction

Cover of Drafons book, 2012Trauma is all around us. Many humans are seriously damaged by their families of origin, and by their cruel cultures.

It is no accident that I got into developing various approaches to trauma therapy.  No surprise that I became a psychotherapist, and worked hard to help many individuals to recover from the pain, confusion and loneliness of Childhood Developmental Trauma (or Complex-PTSD).

I got into this line of work because – without knowing it at the time – I am actually a Childhood Developmental Trauma survivor.

And I am making great progress – slowly – with my new book on Childhood Developmental Trauma, which is titled: Transforming Traumatic Dragons: How to recover from a history of trauma – using a whole body-brain-mind approach. Revised, expanded and updated: August 2021.

That book is now very close to being completed. I have finished the writing and editing. At the moment I am proofreading the text – and I am on page 159 out of 421, which is approximately a third of the way through – (or 37%).

When I have finished, it will be proofed by Renata Taylor-Byrne, my co-author. And then it will be published and made available via Amazon outlets.

Of course, I did publish an earlier, less developed book on this topic, which had two of the three processes that I present in the current book – but the current book is vastly superior, because of the addition of the ‘interoceptive Windows model’, which integrates writing therapy and body work, with breath work, and EMDR. (Plus additional insights into trauma and diet; trauma and exercise; trauma and sleep; how precisely to do that [writing therapy combined with body work] process; and so on).

This book should be a great help to many individuals who have the determination to do at least some of their own therapy at home; perhaps combined with some face to face counselling and therapy with a trauma therapist, because the interpersonal, right-brain to right-brain aspect of trauma recovery is so very important.

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My own trauma journey

Metal Dog - Autobiogprahical story by Jim Byrne

Of course, long before I got down to writing about the trauma problems of other people, I had to work on my own childhood trauma damage.  One of the ways that I did that was to write my own autobiographical stories about my origins and my ‘relationships’.

One of the main ways I did this work was to create an ‘alter ego’ – who I named ‘Daniel O’Beeve’.  I then (in my mind) put Daniel into those situations through which I have lived, and which I could dredge up from my memory banks; and I observed how he got on – from the ‘outside’ – (objectification!).  I then retrieved a lot of my old traumatic nightmares, and rewrote them in a literary style. And then I created a set of ‘alien psychologists’ who could observe Daniel’s journey, through a “wormhole in space-time”, and to make comments about how to understand what is going on in his life (using psychological concepts), in a way which Daniel and I could never have commented! (Clearly this has to be called “a fictionalized autobiographical story”; and none of the characters in this story should be confused with any real individual, living or dead!)

I published all of that work in a book called Metal Dog – Long Road Home. And this is the Amazon books description of that book:

Book description

Cover of Drafons book, 2012Daniel O’Beeve was a victim of childhood developmental trauma, before anybody had even thought to conceive of such a concept.  He was a victim of abuse and neglect long before anybody gave a damn about the emotional welfare of children.

Daniel’s parents were both born into highly dysfunctional families; poor rural families that lived from hand to mouth; families who had been trained by the priests to “beat the fear of God” into their children.

Daniel’s parents did not love each other.  They had an arranged marriage, and never learned to even like each other.

When Daniel was just eighteen months old, his father lost his farm and had to move to Dublin city, to eke out an existence as a gardener. Daniel was born into this mess. Unloved and unloving; beaten and emotionally abused; he grew up with very low emotional intelligence; no capacity to make contact with another human being; and a fear of everything that moved suddenly or rapidly.

He was then thrown into a city school at the age of four years, into a playground in which he was the only “culchie” (or hill billy) – in a sea of “city slickers” (called “Jackeens” by Daniel’s parents) – and this was against a backdrop of dreadful (‘racist’) antipathy between the Dublin and rural cultures in general.

In ten years of public schooling, Daniel did not make a single friend.

Metal Dog - Autobiogprahical story by Jim ByrneWith no map of healthy human love, or workable human relations, he entered the world of work at the age of fourteen, like a drunk thrown out of a pub, late at night, in total darkness, mind reeling, and feelings jangled; and from this point forward he has to try to make sense of life; to make sense of relationships with girls; and to make some kind of life for himself.

For more, please go to Metal Dog – Long Road Home. Where I reveal some of the ways in which my childhood trauma affected my difficulties with trying to “get off” with a girl or woman, in a way that might possibly work. For more, please go to Metal Dog – Long Road Home.

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Back to Jim

Jim and the Buddha, 2As it happened, I (Jim) did manage to find my way out of the darkness and confusion; out of the autism and dissociation; out of the fear and loneliness.  I did my therapy, and I got my reward!

Now I write books for others on the subject of how to overcome childhood developmental trauma.

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The new book on Childhood Developmental Trauma should be available at Amazon outlets in the next month or so, (because I keep getting distracted onto urgent survival projects).

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Bookstore Online UK

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

The Institute for Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy

Email: Dr Jim Byrne.***

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The child is ‘parent’ of the adult

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Blog Post C1: Theory of human development in emotive-cognitive embodied-narrative therapy

By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

23rd June 2021

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Three Principles of Childhood Development, which shape our later adult life…

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2021

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Front cover Holistic Couns reissuedThe theory of emotive-cognitive embodied-narrative therapy was developed by this author over twenty years of study and application, in private practice, with more than 1,000 clients.  It was also developed through many conversations with Renata Taylor-Byrne about stress, meditation, relaxation, sleep science, positive mental attitude, diet and nutrition, and various systems of physical exercise. (Subsequently, Renata contributed a lot of research, and we co-authored some books together.***)

In 2016, I set out to boil my learning down into a limited list of key principles, which I included in Chapter 3 of Holistic Counselling in Practice.*** 

What I came up with was a list of twenty core principles of E-CENT theory, which included the following three principles, which point up the centrality of early childhood experience to our lifelong prospects for happiness and close relationships:

The 20 core principles of human development

Firstly, I do not make the mistake of extrapolating from adult functioning in order to understand the psychology of human nature.  Instead, I begin with the baby in the mother’s womb (where the mother may be more or less stressed, and more or less well nourished, depending upon the actual circumstances of her life).  I then move on to the baby post-birth, which is colonized by a carer (normally mother) who may be more or less sensitive to the baby’s signals of comfort and discomfort; more or less responsive to the baby’s needs; and more or less caring.  And I also take account of how stressed the mother was, by her life circumstances, even before the baby was conceived.  These are the foundations of human emotional and general psychological functioning.

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Secondly, I accept the Attachment theory proposition, that the baby is born with an innate attachment drive, which causes it (after a period of about twenty to twenty-four weeks of development) to seek to attach itself to a main carer.  The attachment bond that is formed becomes either secure or insecure, depending upon whether the mother (or main carer) is “good enough” – meaning sensitive, responsive, and caring enough to soothe the affective states[i] of the baby.  Later father and siblings become important attachment figures for the baby. And the baby forms a set of internal working models of relationship based upon those earliest relationships.

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Metal Dog - Autobiogprahical story by Jim Byrne
Fictionalized story of  the life of Jim Byrne

Third, the first five or six years of life are taken to be the prime determinants of what kind of life the individual will live.  Very largely, the emotionally significant narratives (stories), scripts (maps) and frames (lenses) that the child learns and forms during this period – which manifest in the form of moods and emotional states, expectations, beliefs and habitual patterns of behaviour – will determine its trajectory through life, all other things being equal.  There is, of course, some degree of malleability of the human brain-mind, and so what was once shaped badly (by negative relationship experiences) can to some extent be reshaped into a better form by subsequent ‘curative experiences’, with a love partner, or with a counsellor or psychotherapist. (Wallin, 2007; Doidge, 2008).

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For more of these principles, please see Holistic Counselling in Practice.***

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Email: Dr Jim Byrne.***

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Endnote

[i] An ‘affective state’ is a state of the body-brain-mind of an individual, in which there is physiological arousal and a felt sense of emotional attraction (‘positive affect’) or aversion (‘negative affect’).  For most practical purposes, among counsellors, the word affect may be used interchangeably with ‘feelings’ and ‘emotions’.

Telling stories about childhood trauma can heal your life

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ABC Bookstore Blog Post

2nd July 2020 (Updated on 6th August 2021)

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The circle of life, and the value of stories: The silent witness of early childhood trauma

By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling: Copyright (c) Jim Byrne 2020

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Introduction

Telling stories is good psychotherapyI believe that each of us is a silent witness of our early childhood experiences. We do not know what happened to us unless and until somebody helps us to make a story or stories out of our raw experiences.

You may have noticed this phenomenon: Sometimes in a cop show, or murder mystery, on TV, there’s a witness who knows something which is relevant to solving the crime or mystery. But this witness is unaware that they have witnessed something which is very important, which could be helpful in solving the case.

I believe each of us is like that witness. Let me explain:

Recently I’ve been reading three books that deal with complex, post-traumatic stress disorder:

Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score.

Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery.

And Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving.

One of the things that struck me about all three books is that each of the authors have to tell a personal story to illustrate the journey that got them to study trauma. There is nothing impersonal about their expertise; and their personal stories underpin their professional practices.

Many years ago, I had a set of serendipitous experiences which unearthed some strange stories from my own ‘internal silent witness’. The first happened in Bangladesh in 1977. Up to that point, nobody had ever expressed any curiosity about my life. And I had – consequently – no story about life, which I could know and share with the world.

Asking others about their stories is good therapyI met Carla in Bangladesh, and she was intensely curious about my life, and especially my childhood. I told her some bits and pieces from the very edges of my conscious awareness, and she was appalled at how painful my childhood had been – how physically and emotionally I’d been abused. I was amazed at the emotions that came up them: the painful memories that welled back.  What I had taken to be ‘normal life’ turned out to be quite brutally unusual – or at least not how children should be raised, by parents who love their children, and want them to be happy.

Two years later, back in the UK, I met Renata (my wonderful wife of 34 years), and she was studying various disciplines, including Gestalt therapy. As a result, she was able to help me to explore my childhood some more. Out of my conversations with Renata, I got a lot of little stories about my weird childhood: some funny; some saddening; and some angering.

Front cover,1Over time, two major stories emerged: My Story of Origins (as a country boy in a city school, who failed to make a single friend in ten years of schooling). And My Story of Relationship (especially my insecure attachment to my cruel mother). Both of these stories now appear in a forthcoming book, which you can read about here: Recovery from Childhood Trauma: How I healed my heart and mind – and how you can heal yourself.

Later, I expanded those two stories to include a good deal of my journey from birth to eventual relationship happiness:

Fictionalized autobiography of an Irish Catholic boy: The autobiography of a traumatized child.

Title: Metal Dog – Long Road Home

By Jim Byrne (writing through his alter ego, Daniel O’Beeve)

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Metal Dog - Autobiogprahical story by Jim Byrne

In 1968, at the age of 22 years, I went inside (the fish and chip shop in Blackpool), blinking the rain out of my eyes, and immediately recognized the leopard-skin coat and black fishnet tights on the raven-haired customer in front of me at the counter.  She lived in the house next to the one in which I was lodging.  I’d seen her come and go a few times as I sat at the table in the bay window, eating my breakfast or my evening meal.

She had the appearance of an actress or model.  Tall, elegant, heavily made-up, and she walked with a wiggle, in extremely high, black, patent leather stiletto heels.  As I stood behind her on the queue, she ordered cod and chips.  Then I ordered the same.  She turned to look at me and said, “Horrible weather!”

I agreed.

Her fish and chips were wrapped within seconds; she paid; and she headed for the door.

My fish and chips were wrapped next, and I followed suit.

I did not expect her to be waiting at the exit to speak to me…

For more information, please click this link: Fictionalized autobiography – Metal Dog, Long Road back to near normality.***.

And, at the moment, I am rewriting another of my books, which is designed as a self-help guide for individuals who want to work on their childhood trauma. You can read some information about that book here: Transforming Traumatic Dragons: How to recover from a history of trauma – using a whole body-brain-mind approach

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And then there is my new book about how to heal your own childhood trauma:

Transforming Traumatic Dragons:

How to recover from a history of trauma – using a whole body-brain-mind approach

By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

Cover of Drafons book, 2012Over a period of more than 22 years of professional practice, Dr Jim Byrne has developed and refined a DIY (self-help) approach to resolving your own childhood trauma. This book will help you to understand what childhood developmental trauma is; how it relates to insecure attachment and dysfunction of the right brain; and how to work on childhood trauma using a whole body, brain, mind approach. This book outlines three major therapeutic processes, at three graded levels of emotional disturbance (from mild to intense), which you can progressively (and slowly and gradually) work through, in the form of journal writing, and related processes of body-awareness, body activity, sleep, diet and exercise solutions, and deep relaxation.

Dragons are fearsome, mythical animals which terrify those who contemplate them. Childhood developmental trauma is like a dragon in the basement of your mind, which constantly frightens you (from below the level of your conscious awareness, so that it feels like the terror is here, and now; but it’s not!).

This self-help book explains that you would be able to damp down this fright and panic, if you’d had the right kind of attachment experience with your mother in the first couple of years of your life! And this book teaches you how to get your trauma under control today, despite the lack of an attuned and attentive mother!

For more information, please click this link: Childhood developmental trauma: Facing and defeating dragons.***

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Without the curiosity of Carla and Renata, all of my unknown stories would still be festering inside of my neurotic, subconscious mind-brain-body; instead of having been externalized, ventilated, and healed.

What kinds of stories does your Silent Witness have in raw, gut-feeling form, which could benefit from being written up, or talked out?

What happened to you that needs to be aired and witnessed by a caring other?

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cropped-abc-bookstore-maximal-charles-2019-1.jpgThat’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling, Authorship Coach and Trauma Therapist

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How to heal your childhood trauma

Blog Post – 24th June 2020

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Refinement of my book on ‘Facing and defeating your emotional dragons’

By Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

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Introduction

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on the refinement of my main book on processing traumatic memories. Because trauma is such a complex phenomenon, and lots of new ideas have been developed in the past ten years or so, it is taking some time to clarify my revised process of trauma therapy.

Here is an extract from the Preface to the revised, updated and expanded edition:

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Facing and Defeating your Emotional Dragons:

How to process old traumas, and eliminate undigested pain from your past experience

By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

Copyright © Jim Byrne, June 2020:

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Preface to the Revised Edition, 2020

By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

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1. Preamble

Front cover, dragonsEarly childhood trauma (like physical and emotional abuse, and 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[1]… Cortisol (a major stress hormone) is sustained, and elevated levels can become toxic to the brain[2].”

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 revised, expanded and updated edition is intended to correct that omission, 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. The body is the very foundation of the human personality; which is actually a body-brain-mind, as shaped by social experience.

In this preface 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.

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2. What is trauma?

Front cover, dragonsAccording to my Oxford English Dictionary, trauma means: “… (1) a deeply distressing experience. … (And) (3) emotional shock following a stressful event”. (Soanes, 2002, page 893)[3].

And my Oxford Dictionary of Psychology says it’s: “…a powerful psychological shock that has damaging effects”. (Colman, 2002, page 755)[4].

To further clarify the meaning of ‘trauma’, let us take a look at how Sue Gerhardt, a psychotherapist who deals with childhood trauma, defines this concept.  She describes the opening scene of the film, Fearless, in which Jeff Bridges plays the role of a man who survives a plane crash, with several others. He looks at the scene of devastation without a flicker of concern; walks away; gets into a taxi, and leaves the burning plane, ambulances, fellow survivors, and fire engines behind him. His friend and business partner has died in the crash; so, not surprisingly, the Jeff Bridges’ character is ‘traumatized’. As Gerhardt writes (describing how this character is when he returns to his home life):

“His relationships are affected: he has difficulty relating to his wife and son, and starts instead to form a bond with another survivor who lost her baby. He has flash backs to the crash, reliving the moments as the plane went down. He impulsively takes extreme risks with his body, walking blithely across a busy highway. He is dissociated (or detached – JB) from reality”. (Gerhardt, 2010, page 133).

Trauma disrupts our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. And, in the case of prolonged childhood trauma, the damage also affects:

– personality development;

– the ability to think critically/logically (cognitive development);

– the ability to engage effectively in social relationships;

– and the ability to regulate one’s emotions (which can therefore escalate into inappropriate shame, anxiety, anger, guilt and depression).

Front cover, dragonsIndeed, as Dr Bessel van der Kolk (2015) writes, “All trauma is preverbal”. Traumatized individuals cannot find words to express their terrible feelings. They may freeze, like statues; or fight verbally or physically, with the wrong people; or find various ways of running away, as if you could run away from your own central nervous system’s panicky arousal! They may also ‘fawn’ over others to placate them, if they were bullied and abused by their parents.

As Van der Kolk expresses it: “Even years later traumatized people often have enormous difficulty telling other people what has happened to them. Their bodies re-experience terror, rage, and helplessness, as well as the impulse to fight or flee, but these feelings are almost impossible to articulate. Trauma by nature drives us to the edge of comprehension, cutting us off from language based on common experience or an imaginable past”. (Page 43).

Van der Kolk has worked with traumatized individuals for decades, including war-damaged soldiers and victims of childhood abuse and neglect. And his insights and approach to the subject have also been strongly influenced by working closely with Dr Judith Herman (1994/2015), who has been in the field even longer than him, and who has mainly worked with female victims of childhood sexual abuse, adult rape and domestic violence.

Eventually, trauma sufferers do come up with what Van der Kolk calls “a cover story”, which is their best attempt to tell a story which accounts for their trauma; but it rarely captures the essence of the experience. “It is enormously difficult to organize one’s traumatic experiences into a coherent account – a narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end”.

I know that this is true from my own experience.  I only became aware of my own prolonged childhood abuse when I was thirty years old, and I met a woman who cared enough to listen to my story, and to tell me “that was not normal.  And that – what they did to you – was not okay!”

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Front cover, dragonsTrauma does not just affect our consciousness; our memories; our minds. Modern neuroscience, since the 1990’s, has revealed to us just how much the brains of traumatized individuals are changed (for the worst) by their horrible experiences.  Trauma leaves its imprint on our brain, our mind and our body. And these imprints affect how we think, feel and behave in later life, even decades after the traumatic experience. Trauma changes our perceptions, and our capacity to think. But even when we begin to think/feel about our traumatic experience – and to create a helpful story of what happened – we are still left with the imprints in our bodies: the automatic physical and hormonal responses to present-time reminders of the trauma inflicted on us back there, back then.  The ‘there and then’ is always with us, in our bodies, here and now: unless and until we process those physical and hormonal responses. To quote Van der Kolk again: “For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed, and to live in the reality of the present”. (Page 21).

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In this section I have presented two kinds of trauma: discrete experiences of trauma, like the plane crash; and protracted experiences of trauma, like prolonged childhood abuse. It is important to be clear about the distinction between the first – which is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – and the second, which is called developmental trauma, or Complex-PTSD.

Let us first define PTSD. …

For more, please click this link: How to resolve childhood trauma.***

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Dr Jim's officeThat’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

Email dr jim.byrne @ gmail.com

Telephone: 01422 843 629

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