Experiencing all of yourself, every emotion
When someone has been traumatised, the past traumatic events can come to dominate their awareness. If they have been overwhelmed by what happened at the time, the memory of it does not fade like normal memory, it stays vivid, and prominent, as if their system is insisting the event is paid attention to, so that it can be resolved.
Unresolved trauma not only gives rise to troubling emotions, thoughts, sensations and flashbacks, it also affects the ability to tolerate emotion itself. Trauma symptoms can literally mean there is no space for the here and now, because the there and then is taking up all the capacity. Sufferers may lose out on the positive emotions they would normally be experiencing, and that can be deeply upsetting. Experiencing events and relationships that would normally be very pleasurable and not having any feeling is horrible, and after trauma, this is sadly quite common.
So what can be done? The therapeutic focus is of course initially on resolving the trauma to free up the client’s capacity to experience the here and now. Using approaches that enable memory reconsolidation, like EMDR, clients systems can do what they are naturally evolved for, and adapt the way the memory is held, processing out what needs resolving so that the symptoms dissipate.
There is, however, another task. Clients need to then re-find (or find for the first time) the capacity to connect to pleasurable emotions. They need to rebuild the bandwidth to feel. This is no mean feat. It must begin carefully, gently, increasing the window of tolerance so that more and more can be safely felt, without causing overwhelm or numbing out.
A key aspect of therapy is supporting clients with feeling their emotions, and this means all emotions, not just the troubling ones. Being met in joy, excitement and happiness is just as important as being held as we experience loss, fear, pain, guilt or shame. Therapy is a place of attunement, of resonance, of embrace of all it is to be human, from the perilous to the blissful. The more we are able to inhabit the full range of the emotions that pass through us, the more whole we experience ourselves to be.