A view of trauma from the perspective of different psychotherapeutic paradigms. How to «work through» trauma? Part 3

Third part of broadcast, in which both my colleague Anna Nechaeva and I participated. I hope that the information about trauma that we managed to present will be useful and relevant to you.

10 April, 2024

Maria Dolgopolova: I also wanted to tell for illustration about psychodrama and gestalt. Then I'll return to psychoanalysis. I even have a small idea of how to get back without getting bogged down. In psychodrama, I learned this technique from Pavel Kornienko. But I don't know if it's his original creation or not, partly in any case, but nevertheless, it directly correlates with the general theory of psychodrama. The concept of human health in psychodrama: we have an individual, we have the external world. And this individual is constantly in interaction and contact with himself and the external world. And both we ourselves and the external world generate certain impulses in us.

So, if in gestalt, for example, the emphasis is more on, let's say, on emotional states, well, for example, what we ourselves, other people, with external events of the external world... in gestalt, it's more appropriate to say that it raises certain needs in us, or raises some excitement in us. So, in psychodrama, of course, needs and excitement are also not denied, but there's also a big emphasis on this active side. It's assumed that every event in our life, every thing that evokes our emotions, is also a certain impulse to one action or another. Of course, we civilized people, and sometimes we must consciously refrain from certain actions. If, for example, we realize that it's time to hit someone, actually, to avoid getting in trouble, we still shouldn't hit anyone.

But it's very important here that in order to avoid the effect of this unfinished action, we must understand that we got angry, that actually there was a good reason to hit. We must somehow physically feel it, that yes, this is it. And even if we don't hit, this experience is still so effective, it will get some resolution.

But when we talk about trauma and some extreme experience, then this is exactly the case when all this processing does not digest neither in reality nor in imagination. It all turns into such a dump, where we stop orienting ourselves. Whom would we hit? For what? Where did we actually feel ashamed, and we wanted to crawl under the covers or something?

And the psychodramatic technique I've seen, it also won't help for any material, so where it won't help, on the contrary, gestalt will be better, which still doesn't bring everything to material actions. But the psychodramatic technique, for example, about the fact that we can relive this day, connected with traumatic experience, again, and it's very important to reproduce everything related to micro-actions. Well, and this can be done either with role reversal or without role reversal. Since everything is in slow motion, everything is in a safe environment, then the person has all the time in the world to understand what bodily reactions occur to him at every micro-moment. What emotion is this? Does he want to disappear or hit, or scream? And as soon as we all experience this scrupulously, then the memory also loses its charge, loses its traumatic charge, because there's processing that couldn't happen under natural conditions. Under natural conditions, it turned into a dump where it's impossible to figure out. And on the contrary, smoothly following this procedure, we can restore order in our own reactions, in our own feelings. And in gestalt, when working with unfinished experiences, with unfinished... Moreover, in gestalt, two aspects matter. On the one hand, these gestalt unfinished experiences are also about the fact that the event was very important, but I didn't understand anything about what I felt. And it's not just one particular feeling. This can be a case of a complexly composed traumatic experience, about 50 different experiences for very different detailed reasons. And some of them we compare, and some remain undifferentiated, just lying in a dump, and we didn't even understand what happened.

Well, another thing about gestalt is that it relies on the idea that in the cycle of contact, our psyche generates constant consciousness figures. And these consciousness figures are not just about experience, they're about some content. And there's also a detailed cognitive component here. And with a highly traumatic experience, there's no generation of these figures in consciousness in any form. Again, because everything happens too quickly, events are too difficult to process. And then, if we simply reformulate all these figures in a calm environment of the gestalt office, reformulate all these states, not necessarily, unlike psychodrama, bringing everything to material action, this also returns the person's freedom to contact with these experiences. They stop being haunting, they stop being supercharged.

And I liked the idea that my father expressed at one time about working with trauma in gestalt, that, in a sense, if the traumatic experience deeply affects our basic values, then the memory will be emotionally vivid to some extent throughout life. That is, we shouldn't strive for the brightness of this memory to be zero, or for this memory to become as neutral as all the others, about breakfast or something. It will never be and should never be. But we can achieve the person's free contact with this memory. Then this memory will not haunt, will not secretly influence our lives, will not lead to unpleasant things again, for which we try to process these traumas.

Anna Nechaeva: Yes, very interesting, I think, a very important view.

Interestingly, in general, I think all approaches, more or less, converge on the fact that it's such an intense experience, in which a lot is happening, and somehow we need to help digest it, right? And then different methods just suggest doing this a little differently, essentially. It's very interesting what you said about psychodrama, it's like acting out in the present. I think here, well, you can very subtly connect with some things and so on, look at them, digest them. Well, and about creating figures, it's also interesting, it's like helping not just to process, but also to do what should usually be done but couldn't happen. It's an important focus.

Maria Dolgopolova: I also had some questions for both of us, I think they're interesting for both of us to answer. And I think through them we can immerse ourselves a little in psychoanalysis, maybe slightly less illuminated than the other. For example, there are early and chronic traumas. I don't know, if the mother was drinking and unreliable — it's both an early and a chronic trauma. It was a prolonged experience of experiencing this, a prolonged experience of unpredictability or something else.

Or, for example, if there's violence in the family system of one kind or another — emotional, physical, sexualized or not sexualized — this is also a kind of chronic traumatic situation. And what do you think, well, in the example, maybe more of the cases you've worked with, without disclosing confidential details, is deformation final in the case of early and chronic traumas?

Anna Nechaeva: This is a complex question, actually. And there's no straightforward answer to it. Yes, it will just be like that. But at the same time, it's clear that the earlier the trauma, the greater its impact on a person's life. There's even, by the way, a similar scheme in EMDR, a reversed pyramid. Accordingly, the earlier the event occurred, the more it encompasses the person's personality further. It becomes, accordingly, an important integral part of the person's personality. If the trauma, for example, is late, then, accordingly, it's easier to process, occupies a smaller volume.

And here I adhere, of course, to the idea that, in general, the quality of life can be greatly improved, you can work properly on... If this, how to say, is also important, if this is some acute trauma, it's understandable that the prognosis is better; if it's chronic traumatization, it's much more difficult and longer. But in any case, the quality of life can be significantly improved, some consequences will remain. And it seems to me that this is also an important part for assimilation, acceptance, that this is part of my history, that it strongly influenced me somewhere, I developed considering all these circumstances, I can't live my life anew anymore, become a different person. Further, how I deal with this, accordingly, what method I learn to deal with it.

This can significantly improve life and, accordingly, help a person live the life they want to live, quite, it seems to me, attainable. And with chronic traumatization too. With reservations that something will continue to happen. And influence, more precisely.

Maria Dolgopolova: I think that on this question: is the deformation final? You need to look at how it turns out in each specific case, that indeed, sometimes it happens that even with prolonged traumatization, even with early traumatization, the deformation, for example, during some prolonged self-work, can be achieved... Well, not recovery, but, let's say, practically significant leveling of this experience can be achieved, so that it remains only a philosophical and immeasurable question whether this experience still affects in any way, or it happened, and indeed the person has some equal opportunities, equal emotional setting with other people who did not go through this bar.

But sometimes, I think, it's also useful to think that... Well, for example, I think that you shouldn't chase after this bar, that if there was some strong, traumatic experience, it's not worth setting yourself the bar: "I want to feel the same as people who never had a traumatic experience." Because sometimes, I think, people turn to a psychologist with such ambitious desires, that now I had this, and please, make it so that I feel as if I never had this. And this is such a catch, not useful for improving your self-perception. Well, because, for example, if we have a person, somehow in the family there were some significant people who, for example, let down, who were unreliable, maybe they had some strong dependencies or strong mental disorders preventing them from being reliable. And the person comes out of the family with such a strong experience of distrust in close relationships. And I think it's not helpful to support that now plus will turn into minus, and in another 5 years, you'll become the most trusting person on Earth. Rather, on the contrary, it's enough if the person in this example is distrustful, he can at least not always make choices out of this distrust. That is, to recognize in oneself that "yes, I suspect everyone of the worst, even if they haven't done anything bad yet," but at the same time occasionally make some friends or dare to enter into close relationships that he didn't enter into before. And this will be, in general, a good and feasible plan not just to reinvent yourself, that "I trust everyone and have no memories of any dangers," on the contrary, just somehow knowing and accepting yourself as you are, nevertheless deciding on some joys of life that people without such traumatic experience find easier to go through.

Anna Nechaeva: Yes, I completely agree with you here. After all, this experience has already been gained, some knowledge about the world has already been acquired, we already understand that the world can be dangerous, for example, not everyone should be trusted. And overall, especially in stressful situations, we know that a person tends to resort to certain familiar ways of reacting. And even if we have worked on certain patterns properly, there is no guarantee that in a stressful situation, when a person feels bad, the same reactions, the same patterns won't reappear. And in general, I think this awareness, what you're talking about, really helps when it's not always possible to prevent emotionally triggering situations of distrust or fear.

But then... a person can still pause, if, again, therapy has been successful enough, reflect and understand what decision they are making, whether they still want to try to trust and take a step towards something, whether it is really safe enough, whether they react with a sense of unsafety from objective circumstances, the current situation, or rather from past experiences. And when such freedom appears for a person, it's already great. I'm talking about this specifically in terms of improving quality of life. But all this doesn't mean that, for example, anxiety, fear, suspicion, and something else will completely disappear.

Maria Dolgopolova: Yes, yes. Well, I think it makes sense to end within the foreseeable future in terms of time. So, of course, a lot of things have not been fully covered, and that's very regrettable. Maybe if someone among our listeners still has a question or clarification they're willing to share. This is the moment when you can do that.

Anna Nechaeva: Yes, turn on your microphones, ask questions. We'll be glad to answer.

Maria Dolgopolova: Yes, Anna, I've turned you on.

Listener 1: Good afternoon, thank you very much for the information. I'm not a psychologist, so some things were difficult for me to grasp. I wanted to ask a question. I recently learned that my mother had some psychological traumas in her childhood. And here's the question. I find echoes of this in myself. It's clearly a transmission from parents, but how should I perceive it? Is it like my own trauma or a belief passed on to me? It's not my trauma, but it came from somewhere. So how do I work with this? It's some kind of echo of another person's trauma.

Anna Nechaeva: Yes, good afternoon, Anna here, glad for your question. There is a concept of transgenerational trauma in psychotherapy, in psychology, where traumas are passed down from generation to generation. There's even research on mice showing that mother mice who experienced traumatic experiences interacted with their offspring in such a way that it affected the offspring too. So, for example, mice that experienced some very traumatic event, something about danger, they gained insecurity, fear, and passed it on to their children, for example, through a lack of this emotional connection, through the absence of a reliable type of attachment, as Maria mentioned. And there are different views, of course, different approaches. Some say it's important to identify, articulate what happened in the past, give it a name, call it what it was with your mother, for example, live through it, and it can affect you. You can work on it right now, and also in EMDR, for example, you can work not only on specific memories, clear ones, like there was such a situation, it affected me. But you can work on nuances — how your mother interacted, what she said, traces of memories, for example, some beliefs, something she said, something she manifested, affected you. Anyway, it didn't just magically pass on, but still, how did it get transmitted through your mother's behavior? So, my answer is roughly like this, maybe you can add something, Maria?

Maria Dolgopolova: Let me add something. I have an example from my own life. My life is more open for discussion compared to the lives of clients in the sense that I can talk about it. And thank you, Anna, for the question. I actually have a really interesting story on this topic.

Before my daughter was born, up until the day of her birth, and maybe the first week after her birth, I had a very, very strange fear. Throughout the pregnancy, the first week, I was afraid that the child would be born, and I would go crazy. And this was all despite the fact that in my ordinary life, outside of pregnancy, this fear of going crazy was not characteristic of me. I know that this fear exists for some people, but I've never remembered feeling it myself. And here I am, going through the whole pregnancy with this image that the child is born, and I go crazy, and I'm thinking, "Masha, what is this? What is this at all?" But of course, I worked through this fantasy as my own. What else could I do? Because I didn't know where it came from.

Then my daughter was actually born, and I didn't go crazy. And something interesting happened. About a month after her birth, my relatives told me a story that in our family there was indeed such a situation where a little baby was born, and the mother of this baby went crazy. I mean, she experienced some mental deterioration.

So, they took her to the hospital, and they took the baby to an institution where they could take care of babies without mothers. Well, this episode really happened in my family, and it was exactly in the first week of this baby's life. And I was just shocked at the time because nobody had told me this story, but it was as if, despite nobody telling me, I felt it. I remembered the concept of transgenerational trauma. And indeed, something comes not because we know it, not because it's our material, but because, I don't know, mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, someone experienced something, someone didn't work through something, and it somehow gets passed down to us.

Well, I can share my situation, I can't share my clients' situations, but this happens very often. But even if these are, in quotation marks, not our traumas, we still have to deal with our lives somehow. I mean, we can't bring grandma or grandpa to therapy now; this is now our own fantasy, our own unfinished business, and we need to work through it. Even if it's someone else's discord, we still have to live our lives.

Anna Nechaeva: Yeah, a very surprising story.

Maria Dolgopolova: Yes, Anna also tried to say something.

Listener 1: Yes, I wanted to say thank you. Maria's story is probably close to me. I mean, I have some flashbacks, I work on myself, and then, afterwards, I find out that something actually happened with my parents. But I realized, in general, I should just continue, just deal with my own bugs. Thank you.

Maria Dolgopolova: Yes, unfortunately, all the mess that remains from our family can affect us too. We still have to deal with it ourselves.

Anna Nechaeva: There is hope that they won't be passed on further if we deal with them.

Maria Dolgopolova: Yes, I think so too. Are there any other questions? Yes, Dmitry, I've turned you on.

Listener 2: Hello, Masha. Hello, Anna. I probably want to say a huge thank you for two things. Firstly, for the material you presented. Especially for the window of opportunity. It's a very... very intriguing idea for me. And secondly, I want to thank you for how you're doing this, for your unhurriedness, for your... some kind of thoughtfulness. It was very useful for me to listen and remember something from my own history. And, Masha, what you just said about this intersection of your personal history and the history that came from your family... Thank you separately.

Maria Dolgopolova: Thank you, Dima.

Anna Nechaeva: Thank you.

Maria Dolgopolova: So, as we agreed, let's take a minute to talk about what we're currently doing in the present and future. I'm Maria Dolgopolova, as you already know, and I'm currently leading a therapy group on Saturdays. I would welcome two more participants in our warm collective. Group therapy, like individual therapy, helps in self-exploration and self-discovery through means that are not possible in individual therapy alone. By utilizing different methods, we gain insight and progress in our inquiries. I have experience in leading gestalt and psychoanalytic groups, and I'm ready to share my skills and experience.

Anna Nechaeva: I would join your group, but I can't. I'm interested in the ethics. I trust you a lot as a facilitator, as a specialist, and as a person. The combination of gestalt and psychoanalysis is very intriguing. I think it must be very interesting and useful.

Maria Dolgopolova: Thank you.

Anna Nechaeva: I also invite you to join our Telegram channel, which I co-manage with my colleague, a gestalt therapist, Anastasia Kedrovskaya. There's a link in my account. We discuss psychology, aesthetics, and I share some body practices, all openly accessible. Come join us; we have a pleasant atmosphere there. You can communicate in the comments and share something of your own.

I also lead a group on Mondays called "Mindfulness Practices." I didn't get a chance to mention it today, but briefly, I'm very interested in working with the body, various body practices, and connecting with the body. It's difficult to overestimate the benefits of such practices. Just recently, on Monday, during another session, a girl said that it's just a foundation that everyone needs to go through now. In a world of such speed, constant gadgets, and social networks, just coming somewhere where you can exhale, connect with yourself, restore your emotional state. Indeed, these practices help to replenish resources. Today we talked about the fact that to survive and process trauma, some resources are still needed. And a connection with one's own resources is necessary.

Also, connecting with the body, with one's inner world, greatly helps in processing connections, becoming aware of one's traumas, some difficult areas, becoming aware of one's process. And through these same practices, these traumas are healed. Interestingly, I personally felt that when I started doing meditative practices, some memories started to surface, some emotions started to surface in the body, through the body, I began to feel better about certain processes that were frozen in this body. We talked a little about this; traumas manifest in the body, in some emotional tensions, in some illnesses, even psychosomatic ones, and so on. This fine-tuning of subtle attention greatly helps with all of this. And it helps to become aware and improve in the future.

The group is open. It takes place on Mondays at 9 pm, and you can attend not every time, but when it's possible for you. Write me a message, and I'll add you to the chat; I'll be happy to see everyone there. The trial session costs only 500 rubles, I think it's a great offer, you should take advantage of it. We also communicate a little there, share our processes, and then I lead a block of practices for 30-40 minutes, quite deep, and then we communicate and share again. I'll be happy to see everyone there.

Maria Dolgopolova: Yes, I highly recommend Anya; she's an interesting, knowledgeable person, she'll teach you well.

Well, then, thank you, thank you very much. Thank you, Anya, for joining us to talk. Thank you, dear listeners, for your interest, for your questions, for your feedback. Stay tuned for our news. Maybe we'll do some more broadcasts and hold some other events. It was warm and nice with you.

Anna Nechaeva: Thank you so much, Masha, thank you for organizing and inviting. And to all the listeners, this is our shared space, thank you! I hope it was helpful. Until we meet again!

About me

Maria Dolgopolova – a certified clinical and a jungian psychologist (Moscow Association of Analytical Psychology, an IAAP training candidate studying in CGJung Institute in Zurich) with a background in gestalt therapy (Moscow Institute of Gestalt and Psychodrama, Gestalt Associates Training Los Angeles) and in psychoanalysis of object relations.


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