Therapist in Los Angeles
Darren Haber MFT

Trauma


Darren Haber, MFT

Is there a person, place or thing in your life that causes enormous fear or anxiety? Sometimes we encounter situations or interactions that freeze us in our tracks. It could be a fear of flying, or driving on the freeway (more common than you think in Los Angeles!) It could be that a certain place (a parent's house, or boss's office) that creates an intense and confusing paralysis. Or perhaps this "tsunami" of nervousness (sweaty palms, racing heart, feelings of panic or overwhelm) happens when you're in a romantic situation; asking someone on a date or having sex with your partner, or in a work environment; asking your boss for a raise. You may be wondering why, when you're perfectly fine at other times, you clam up or fight the urge to flee at these particular moments. Such experiences are incredibly frustrating and demeaning to one's self-confidence and esteem. The good news is, real help and relief are possible. I have worked with dozens of people and helped them handle these kinds of situations in a new and empowering way.

Sometimes the explanation for these situations are simple: you were in a car accident and are now skittish about driving. Perhaps you lost a friend or loved one in a tragedy and live in deep fear of such an event happening again (a fire, plane crash, etc.) Perhaps you lost a job, which was so upsetting that you now have trouble even searching for a new one.

Or perhaps the explanation is not so simple. It's not entirely clear why it's so hard to relax during sex with your partner, or ask someone out, or talk to your boss without feeling your heart pound, or break up with a partner you know is hurting you. This happens more often than commonly realized, and together we can understand it and work through it.

First, some info. These types of fear-based reactions often point to a traumatic event (or events) that have left disturbing memories and associations around that event. When reminders, or "triggers" of these events occur, we find ourselves stuck in "fight or flight" or "freeze" mode. These triggers can be as simple as the task of driving for the first time after your accident, or getting onto a plane with a fear of flying .... or they can be subtle, such as a nameless feeling of intense vulnerability (like in a relationship) that creates a confusing sense of anxiety or terror. It could be the same cologne or perfume of someone who hurt you that triggers these feelings. It could be a song that was playing in the background when you got some bad news. This terror often occurs when you most need confidence (like when you want to leave an abusive partner or stop a destructive habit); I understand how intense the demoralization is, when fear stops you from following through.

The events I'm referring to can be a "single incident", like a car accident, or "chronic", like being abused over a period of time. Chronic trauma can be obvious or subtle; some of us were physically hurt by our parents or caregivers, and some were emotionally hurt with constant criticism or neglect, and got so "used" to it that we don't wake up to how hurtful it was until years later. These experiences of yesterday leave psychological scars that can make functioning difficult today.

 

 

Many of my clients find enormous relief when they find that they are having intense "trigger" reactions to painful memories, and are not "stupid" or "doing things wrong". The "fight, flight or freeze" syndrome is an extremely normal way to protect ourselves when we feel we are in danger. These triggers from the past can feel like danger in the present. This is because traumatic events lodge themselves in our memory in a different way than "normal" events. Triggers are reminders of these events that activate our brain's primitive protective instincts so that we, to quote the Who, won't get fooled again ...

One of the most effective tools to help you transform these memories from traumatic to "normal" (like cleaning out clogged pipes) is EMDR. EMDR is a fancy term that stands for a new psychotherapeutic technique called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I am a fully trained EMDR therapist who can help you replace fear with confidence, and terror with safety. There are many ways to help you work through these feelings and move from paralysis to action, from terror to comfort. With EMDR and other similar tools, I can help you connect the dots and come to understand, mentally and emotionally, why you feel so unsafe or triggered in certain situations, and how to get unstuck to get on with your life and move toward the kinds of experiences you want to have - rather than just continuing to avoid those things that feel so painful. You'd be surprised how many people come to realize that they were or are mistreated in situations that seemed "fine". TraumaMany have a "eureka!" moment where they connect the dots and come to understand and expel the fear that blocks their hopes and wants.

We are fortunate in that we live in a time where new forms of therapy are emerging to help people get unstuck and feel better. It is indescribably relieving to realize that we are reacting to something from the past, that we may or may not remember, rather than being "stupid" or "weak" in our inability to handle things.

Accompanying these triggers and memories is a belief about ourselves that is extremely negative - and inaccurate. That belief often says something like, I'm not good enough or I can't handle this or I'm stupid. Together we can change that belief to something closer to the truth, to help you see that you can handle it, you are good enough and that you are far from stupid.

The relief that comes from this transformation is liberating - the life that follows even better.