Dr. Guy Macpherson, Ph.D. What is Psychological Trauma and How to Heal It
Table of Contents
Psychological trauma, let’s talk about it. There is much to it, in fact, too much.
Hopefully, the show notes and the interview with Guy Macpherson, Ph.D. an expert in trauma, founder of The Trauma Therapist Project, and host of The Trauma Therapist Podcast will provide a starting point to understand what psychological trauma is.
This includes how to deal with it in your life and how to be of better support, if you know someone who is suffering from a traumatic event.
Now, first and foremost, what are we talking about when one refers to psychological trauma?
Definition of Psychological Trauma:
Psychological trauma is a type of damage to the mind that occurs as a result of a distressing event. Trauma is often the result of an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one’s ability to cope or ability to integrate the emotions involved with that experience.
There is a vast number of people who walk around with an unhealed trauma, but as Guy Macpherson, Ph.D., also points out in the interview, there are equal amounts of people who do not know they have been traumatized.
Let’s take a look at the five events that tend to be traumatic, to help deepen the understanding of trauma.
Five Events that Tend to be Traumatic:
In general, abuse can be categorized into two categories: physical abuse and emotional abuse.
– Physical Abuse
Physical pain: such as hitting with hands or objects, kicking, slapping, burning, tying or otherwise restraining, etc.
Physical abuse inflicted by a parent on a child or within any other relationship often starts gradually, such as with a push or a slap, and then becomes progressively worse over time.
Being shaken, hit, or physically abused in any way as a child can lead to poor physical or mental health later in life, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, childhood behavioral or conduct issues, drug use, suicide attempts, obesity, sexually transmitted infections, and risky sexual behavior.
Sexual abuse: forcing someone into a sexual act against their will.
Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats, or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent.
Most victims and perpetrators know each other. Immediate reactions to sexual abuse include shock, fear, or disbelief. Long-term symptoms include anxiety, fear, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
– Emotional abuse
Bullying or harassing, verbal abuse, making threats or intimidation.
Physical violence is often seen as being more serious than emotional abuse, but this simply isn’t true. The scars of emotional abuse are real and long-lasting.
Emotional abuse is an attempt to control, in just the same way that physical abuse is an attempt to control another person.
The only difference is that the emotional abuser does not use physical actions such as hitting, kicking, pinching, grabbing, pushing, or other physical forms of harm. Rather, the perpetrator of emotional abuse uses emotional manipulation as his/her weapon of choice.
Emotional abuse can severely impact your mental health and lower your self-esteem and confidence. It may also lead to depression, anxiety, and even suicide attempts.
The loss of a parent due to death or divorce often causes a child’s fear of abandonment to intensify, often well into adulthood.
The damage caused by parental abandonment is particularly devastating if it happens before the child understands that they are not responsible for other people’s actions.
Childhood abandonment causes an individual to have problems with forming secure attachments, which can set the stage for the poor quality of relationships later in life.
Neglect is a form of abuse where the perpetrator, who is responsible for caring for someone who is unable to care for themselves, fails to do so.
Neglect can be a result of carelessness, indifference, or unwillingness.
It may include the failure to provide enough supervision, nourishment, or medical care, or the failure to fulfill other needs, which the victim cannot provide for themselves.
Neglect can go on for an indefinite period in a child’s life, causing many long-term side effects, such as physical injuries (neglect can affect the body physically as it affects a child’s development and health, sometimes leading to chronic medical problems), low self-esteem, attention disorders, violent behavior, and even death.
Enmeshment is a kind of relationship between two or more people in which personal boundaries are permeable and unclear.
Enmeshment is a concept introduced by Salvador Minuchin, a family therapist who developed structural family therapy, addressing problems of functioning within a family.
Minuchin used the word ‘enmeshment’ to describe the situation in families where personal boundaries are diffused, sub-systems undifferentiated, and over-concern for others leads to a loss of autonomous development.
Enmeshed in parental needs and trapped in a discrepant role function, a child may lose their capacity for self-direction and their own distinctiveness under the weight of ’psychic incest.’
And, if family pressures increase, the child may end up becoming the identified parent or family scapegoat.
5. Witnessing a Tragic Event
Anyone who is in any way involved in a disaster or tragic event may experience traumatic reactions. You may experience these reactions if you:
- – Were a witness or involved in the event
- – Arrived at the scene of the event
- – Had a “near miss”, or almost involved in the event
- – Knew or knew others who were killed, harmed, or involved in some way in the event
- – Have a relationship with family or friends of the victims
- – Heard a lot about the event through media or friends
- – Are reminded of other traumatic incidents in your life by this event
While certainly, not everyone who experiences one of those events may end up being traumatized, these are the five events that tend to be traumatic and may lead one to suffer from psychological trauma.
It is important to learn how to deal with trauma healthily, but also to recognize the impact a past event might have had on your life, and not to let it slip unnoticed.
The long-term results of not treating and caring for our psychological wounds is one of needless suffering and destruction.
Studies have consistently found a strong association between shame and the experience of a traumatic event. How exactly is this all connected? And why does this matter so much that we must point it out?
Why it matters is because researchers have found that the experience of shame following a traumatic event may lead you to use unhealthy coping strategies, such as alcohol use, avoidance, or self-destructive behaviors, which can interfere with your ability to process the emotions associated with the traumatic event.
Additionally, since the experience of shame can be related to judgments of weakness or worth, survivors may feel more stigma about having experienced a traumatic event. This stigma could then prevent them from seeking out the appropriate help.
That shame, if not dealt with properly as an adult, will manifest itself typically in four behavior patterns:
The fact or condition of being addicted or unable to stop yourself from engaging with a particular substance or activity such as gambling, alcohol, drugs, sex, overworking, etc
Experts say this is a pattern of behavior in which you find yourself dependent on approval from someone else for your self-worth and identity.
It is also characterized by excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically if you require support on account of illness or addiction.
3. Attachment Disorder
This disorder includes problems with behavior and relationships that result when a person has not formed positive attachments (strong feelings of love or connection) with parents or other people who cared for them as a small child.
Attachment disorder is a broad term that describes disorders of mood, behavior, and social relationships arising from a failure to form normal attachments to primary caregiving figures in early childhood.
Such a failure could have resulted from unusual early experiences of neglect, abuse, abrupt separation from caregivers between six months and three years of age, frequent changes or excessive number of caregivers, or lack of caregiver responsiveness to child communicative efforts—all of which result in a lack of basic trust.
4. Emotional Dysregulation
Emotional dysregulation refers to the inability of a person to control or regulate their emotional responses to provocative stimuli. It can also be termed “emotional hyper-reactivity.”
In life, each individual is repeatedly exposed to events and interactions, such as conflict in a relationship, personal criticism, or a perceived abandonment.
A person with emotional dysregulation disorder reacts in an emotionally exaggerated manner to these environmental and interpersonal challenges.
In short, this is usually by overreacting, with bursts of anger, crying, accusation, passive-aggressive behavior, or creation of chaos or conflict.
The journey to healing one’s trauma can be a difficult one, but note that you certainly aren’t alone. There are ways of healing the wounds caused by that event.
We hope the interview with Dr. Guy Macpherson, and the additional information here on the show notes, will help you with this journey of either healing your psychological trauma or to be a better support to someone in your life who is suffering.
A Few Recommended Books About Psychological Trauma:
EP 019 – Dr. Guy Macpherson, Ph.D. What is Psychological Trauma and How to Heal It
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Some of the Questions:
What You Will Learn from this Episode:
- – The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma, has spent over three decades working with survivors.)
- – In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness (In this culmination of his life’s work, Peter A. Levine draws on his broad experience as a clinician, a student of comparative brain research, a stress scientist and a keen observer of the naturalistic animal world to explain the nature and transformation of trauma in the body, brain and psyche.)
- – Gabor Mate (Gabor Maté is a Hungarian-born Canadianphysician. He has a background in family practice and a special interest in childhood development and trauma, and in their potential lifelong impacts on
physical and mental health, including on autoimmune disease, cancer, ADHD, addictions, and a wide range of other conditions.)
- – Peter Levine (Peter A.Levine, Ph.D. is the originator and developer of Somatic Experiencing® and the Director of The Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute. He holds doctorate degrees in Medical Biophysics and in Psychology. During his thirty five-year study of stress and trauma, Dr. Levine has contributed to a variety of scientific and popular publications.)
- – Bessel Van Der Kolk (Bessel van der Kolk is a psychiatrist, author, researcher and educator based in Boston, USA. Since the 1970s his research has been in the area of post-traumatic stress. He is the author of the New York Times best seller, The Body Keeps the Score)
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