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The Basic Structure of Loss and Violence Trauma Imprints

by Judith Swack.



As an NLP practitioner specializing in Mind/Body healing, I have worked with many clients who presented with a diverse set of physical or emotional problems. Despite the variety of symptoms, I was fascinated by the discovery that a large proportion of these problems were primarily caused by only two types of trauma imprints, loss and violence. Some of the diverse manifestations of these trauma imprints included physical illnesses or symptoms such as immune system deficits (repeated infections, cancer, allergies, asthma), body pain (headaches, residual pain or weakness from physical injuries), cardiovascular irregularities (heart palpitations), neuroendocrine irregularities (infertility), and sleep and energy level deficits. Representative emotional problems included an inability to progress towards life goals feeling “stuck) such as obtaining a job or mate. I initially assumed that the “frozen” quality of the problem was phobic in nature and would resolve after a simple phobia cure treatment. I soon discovered that loss and violence trauma imprints have additional components that require healing in order for the client to obtain complete and lasting results. I decided to study and characterize the core structure of loss and violence trauma imprints in order to develop a thorough and successful treatment protocol. The trauma patterns and treatment protocols described here are the result of an in depth study of more than eighty clients that I have treated over a period of ten years. I was intrigued to discover that all loss traumas have common core structures; all violence traumas have common core structures. I also found that although the two patterns are quite similar, there are certain unique characteristics that distinguish a loss from a violence imprint. This report is divided into sections as follows: • Characteristics and Importance of Trauma Imprints • Outlines of Loss and Violence Trauma Imprints • Descriptions and Case Examples • Intervention Protocols • Special Circumstances • Conclusion • Appendix containing the procedure for the Callahan Technique™ for Phobia


Characteristics and Importance of Trauma Imprints


Trauma imprints occur in individuals’ minds and bodies at the moment they first feel shocked, surprised and/or frightened during a traumatic experience. This imprint is phobic in nature in that the learning occurs instantaneously at the moment of the initial shock. The imprint remains frozen in the body, and environmental cues can trigger “flashbacks” of the event unless the trauma imprint is specifically released by interventions that clear phobias. The major characteristic of a trauma imprint includes a sense of being frozen, stuck, unable to breathe, unable to change, and unable to access age appropriate resources in specific situations. Additional diagnostic indicators include unwarranted irrational or exaggerated emotional reactions (responses that people know are inappropriate but are unable to suppress during the reaction), and repeat nightmares. Trauma imprints are more complicated than simple phobias because they are layered. In addition to fear, there are the intense negative emotions of anger, sadness, hurt, and guilt or shame. At the same time, people make irrational decisions about themselves, the situation, and the world in general. These decisions can undermine their self worth and confidence. In this study I examined the structure of two major categories of trauma imprints, loss and violence. Experiences that predictably cause loss trauma imprints include unexpected loss of a family member, spouse or friend, through death or divorce, actual or apparent abandonment, a sudden health crisis resulting is loss of function, and loss of a job. Experiences that predictably cause violence trauma imprints include verbal, physical, or sexual attacks on individuals or their property. Sometimes a traumatic experience will cause an individual’s personality to fragment into conflicting parts, and sometimes the damaged parts are suppressed. When I find a “part” of a client that will not admit to having a positive intention and that cannot be reframed, I know that the client has experienced a trauma. Sometimes trauma incidents are so terrible that people’s unconscious minds protect them by suppressing entirely the memory of the event. In these cases, clients may suspect that something bad has happened to them because they have repeated bad dreams or small flashes of memory, someone else tells them about the event, or they are aware that their behavior and emotional reactions are different for those of others in similar situations. It requires a lot of energy to suppress and compensate for a trauma imprint with its accompanying layers of negative emotion and limiting beliefs. This energy drain makes it difficult for people to be completely successful, to fully enjoy their life in the present, and to easily progress into the future. Like a dormant volcano, the whole experience can erupt at any time causing anxiety and pain. If the trauma occurred early in life, it can freeze clients’ emotional development in some contexts, and block their ability to develop into powerful, resourceful, successful, productive, and complete adults. From my specialization in phobias and in health problems, I found that many of my clients carried loss and violence imprints even though they were not initially aware that this was the cause of their presenting problems. Two clients presented with seemingly simple phobias (fear of heights and claustrophobia in subways) which were in fact related to loss of their fathers at age two-three years and at age eleven months, respectively. Several clients manifested compulsive/addictive behaviors such as workaholism, food addiction (binge eating), and relationship addictions or dysfunctions stemming form loss or violence traumas. Disease symptoms that disappeared following trauma intervention included cancer, acute episodes of multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, recurring viral upper respiratory infections, and musculo-skeletal pain. In addition, 50-70% of allergies could be traced to a traumatic reference experience which needed to be cleared before the immune response could be permanently corrected. ¹ If trauma imprints are so damaging to people, why do we have the neuroendocrine hardwiring for this physical reflex? A possible answer to this question came to me as I listened to a friend describe a motorcycle accident. Although he was badly injured, he felt no pain and was able to function well enough to get himself to a hospital. People who lose loved ones often make the funeral arrangement in a numb state that enables them to function. Clearly, this reflex is a survival mechanism that allows people to function without being overwhelmed by pain for 24-48 hours after an injury. Why is the same reflex triggered by the pain of an emotional trauma as well as a physical trauma? Perhaps the unconscious mind or body cannot distinguish physical from emotional pain since emotions are feelings felt in the body. Unfortunately, the frozen state remains in the body memory long after the triggering event resulting in the lingering emotional and physical discomfort characteristic of phobic trauma imprints. Because of the far-reaching consequences of trauma imprints, I decided to define the core structure of loss and violence imprints and devise a treatment protocol for clearing the entire pattern. The patterns described below were distilled from experience with more than eighty clients during the last ten years. All of the elements outlined in the core structure are common to every one of the clients studied. The exact wording of some of the core beliefs varies with the individual, but the meaning is the same. Additional beliefs not listed in the outline, underlying causes, and some of the behavioral manifestations associated with the imprint are idiosyncratic. Descriptions and Case Examples Loss Trauma Imprint I. Initial Shock The initial shock always occurs the moment a person first knows that something is wrong. Usually, the person learns the bad news in a phone call, in a face to face meeting, or by first-hand experience (e.g.; watching someone collapse and later die). In that instant, the body imprints a shock which is often characterized by an intense adrenalin rush of fear, a feeling of frozenness or numbness, and/or a sharp indrawn breath followed by an inability to breath normally. Exclamations of “I don’t believe it,” or “It can’t be true” are common. The entire pattern with all its layers of imprints simultaneously with the initial feeling of A: shock/fear. In addition, the body imprints feeling of B: anger/rage, C: sadness, and D: hurt/pain. I. Limiting (core) Beliefs A. Responsibility (guilt/shame/blame) When individuals suffer a loss, they try to make sense of it or understand why it happened. 1. They believe that somehow the loss is their fault, feel guilty or ashamed, and arrive at an irrational conclusion. The client whose father died when she was eleven months old concluded that he died because she was born and somehow a life was traded for a life. The client whose mother suffered an aneurism concluded that his mother left him because he made her angry. The client whose father left when she was two-three years old concluded that he left because she didn’t behave. A client whose sister was murdered wished that she could have died in her sisters’ place in order to spare her. Another client whose bother died felt that her mother secretly wished that she (the client) had died instead. 2. They blame other people, usually the other parent or other family members, for the loss. “Its Mommy’s fault (that Dad left us) because she was afraid to leave Grandma.” “Its Grandma’s fault (that Dad left us) because she was always telling Mommy what to do.” “It’s the doctor’s fault.” 3. The feel disconnected from God. “How could God let this happen?” “It’s not fair!” “Why does this have to happen to me?” “I’m jinxed/cursed.” “I’ve lost my faith and can no longer pray.” In cases where the loss is purely accidental (e.g. a ruptured aneurism, a traffic or sports accident, a weather induced fatality) individuals blame God (fate, the universe) for the loss and lose their spiritual connection to God. Even in cases where the loss was not accidental, (e.g. divorce or loss of a romantic relationship) the client often feels “destined for bad luck.” The underlying presupposition is that God is all-powerful and in control of the universe. Harold Kushner, in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, states that in order for there to be free will, God cannot control everything and thus is not all-powerful.² Random tragedies … “do not reflect God’s choices. They happen at random, and randomness is another name for chaos … and chaos is evil; not wrong, not malevolent, but evil nonetheless, because by causing tragedies at random, it prevents people from believing in God’s goodness.” ² It is my feeling that part of the tragedy here is that people are cut off from their spiritual resources no matter what their individual and personal definition of God may be. B. “Who Will Take Care of Me?” People who experience a loss worry about who will be there to meet their (financial, emotional, physical, social, etc.) needs. This question is especially charged for people whose parents died when they were still minors. One supporting parent is dead or has left, so the other parent could also die or leave (anticipatory phobia). Children too young to support themselves financially (and in other ways, i.e. who will love me), feel that their survival is at risk. This particular feeling triggered workaholic behavior in two clients. A third client alienated her teenage daughter by chastising the girl for taking business track instead of college prep courses in high school. Her constant refrain was, “Without a college education, who will take care of you?” This question is also especially charged for spouses who are aging and worry about who will take care of them as they age. One client decided to get a Ph.D. after her husband (who is still alive nearly 15 years later) had a near-fatal heart attack. C. “People (men/women) leave me. I can’t trust them.” This belief generalized across many contexts. It manifests behaviorally as a fear of beginning friendships was well as behavior that causes the loss of friendships. Clients with this belief feel unable to share their feelings and are afraid to show their “real self” to anyone else. D. I am powerless or helpless/I have no control. This belief manifests itself as a feeling that the client is unable to prevent the loved one from leaving. One client expressed it as “I can’t hold on to people I love.” In some cases people feel unable to even influence improvements in a relationship, although they may be aware that their actions can make the situation worse. E. I am bad/unlovable/unwanted/undeserving/unworthy. This belief also comes in the form “I have no value.” Behaviorally, clients wonder about and are suspicious of people who like them. They feel that the attention they are getting is at some level undeserved and unwarranted, and often feel it necessary to “bribe” people for their love, friendship, and attention by taking care of them, by doing something for them, or by trying to make themselves into whatever they imagine that the other person wants to be. Clients often remain in or cling to emotionally empty of abusive relationships because they feel unworthy of undeserving of a good relationship or of getting their needs met. In cases of job loss, individuals also believe that their work has no value. They are often willing to take a pay cut or a lower level position in their next job. II. Feeling of Emptiness The two unique characteristics that distinguish a loss from a violence trauma imprint are Category II B. (Who will take care of me?) and Category III. FEELING OF EMPTINESS. This feeling is generally described as a loss or grief reaction, but it is only part of a whole loss trauma imprint. When individuals experience loss, they miss the person who is gone. The sense of loss manifests itself as an empty or hollow feeling in the area of the stomach, or in the area of the heart and chest. This pattern may manifest itself as a belief that “I will never find another ________ as good as the one I lost.” It may trigger addictive behavior; several clients developed eating addictions to fill up the empty feeling associated with loss or rejection. One client lost his first business and subsequently developed addictive eating habits with an accompanying weight problem. Prior to the loss, he had a whole feeling in his chest which he associated with a sense of confidence. After the loss, he felt a hole the size of a fist in that area of his chest. This sensation may also lead to a desire to die. A client whose parents divorced when she was five years old described it eloquently. “I have such a feeling of emptiness that I have no ambition or curiosity about the world. Life is not worth living. I want to die.” Another client, whose sister was murdered, pictured herself as an empty and barren (lifeless) meteor crater. III. Root Cause: the Setup. This category is idiosyncratic. Usually if someone loses a relationship or job we look for the underlying beliefs and attitudes that contributed adversely to the situation. I have treated several unmarried women in their forties for painful relationship breakups. These women all had a history of attracting or being attracted to emotionally or physically abusive men. Not surprisingly, all of these women had fathers who emotionally or physically abused their mothers. One of my clients lost three businesses in three years (damaging his partners financially in the process) and got a divorce. The root cause was the death of his father. When we cleared this imprint, he started a new business, got a new girlfriend, and maintained these relationships for at least five years after I treated him. IV. Anticipatory Phobia The anticipatory phobia is common to many simple phobias as well as to trauma imprints. It is the fear that the traumatic event will happen again and is characterized by a pervasive underlying feeling of dread. The specific manifestation of an anticipatory phobia is idiosyncratic, but there are common themes. People who have suffered a loss fear that they will lose other people they love. Clients often fear that the pain of another loss would be too much for them to bear. (“If one of my children died it would kill me.”) An elementary school teacher told me of a student in her class whose parents recently divorced with Dad leaving the house. The child became noticeably anxious at the end of each school day, fearing that Mom wouldn’t be there wither when he got home. Parents who experienced childhood loss often appear to be “overprotective” or “over-controlling.” The client whose mother died of an aneurism when he was eight years old was afraid of losing his wife and child. While walking in a large field with his tow year old son, the child let go of his hand and ran ahead of him. Even though the road was quite a distance away, and even though there was no traffic, my client vividly imagined his child being run over and experienced a full body reaction of panic. Another client who had experienced a severe illness worried obsessively about the possibility of his wife and daughter becoming ill. Sometimes people actively “kill off” relationships or businesses because of the belief that “everything comes to an end” or “nothing lasts forever.” Thus, they end the arrangement themselves instead of waiting interminably for the “inevitable” to happen. Violence Trauma Imprint 1. Initial Shock The initial shock in a violence trauma imprint occurs at the moment individuals realize that they are in physical danger (real or perceived). This occurs at the moment of violent contact, either physical or verbal. As in the case of loss, the entire pattern with all of its layers imprints simultaneously with the initial feeling of A: shock/fear. In addition, the body imprints feelings of B: anger/rage, C: sadness, and D: hurt/pain. In the case of physical violence, the feeling of hurt/pain may refer to emotional as well as physical pain. If the shock/fear is not cleared immediately, the attackees often experiences flashbacks of violence which may a later subside into repeated nightmares in which someone (a monster) is attacking them. Several clients also reported severe emotional reactions when they identified with dead animals that they passed in the road. There are two unique characteristics that distinguish a violence from a loss trauma imprint. The first of these is E: feeling vulnerable/boundary violation or breach. People have a sense of body perimeter or personal space surrounding them, and assume that they have a choice about whom they allow to be physically or emotionally close to and in what manner. During a violence incident, the attacker violated that space thereby shattering the boundary and the feeling of choice. The attackee is left feeling vulnerable and unsafe. Thus, manifestations of “I am not safe” are uniquely diagnostic of violence. After an episode of emotional violence, the recipient is reluctant (feels intimidated) to engage the perpetrator in conversation. Immediately after a physical violence episode, the recipients may feel afraid to leave their homes or to let anyone physically near them. Later, this part of the imprint can develop into compulsive behavior. One client checked the locks on the windows and doors of her home several times every night before she went to bed (even though she lives with her husband). In the most severe forms of violence with a sexual component, people may shrink from being touched in any way by anyone in any context. The second unique characteristic of a violence imprint is F: the feeling of pollution. The recipient feels polluted, dirtied, tarnished, sullied, touched by evil, etc. In cases of sexual violence (which induces a more severe trauma imprint than in cases of non-sexual violence), the feeling of pollution can manifest as extreme shame. A desire to wash off the feeling of the attacker is common. II. Limiting (core) Beliefs a. Responsibility (guilt/shame/blame) This category imprints identically to that of a loss imprint. Recipients of violence try to rationalize the crime by assigning responsibility. 1. They believe that somehow the attack was their fault. Statements about “I should have known better that to go out with him, dress like that, walk unescorted in this area, etc.” are common. One client at age five was tied to her bed in the middle of the night after she called to her father for a drink of water. She believed it was her fault because she should have known better than to ask her father for a drink of water. One client’s drunken father attempted to kill his wife by shooting at her. She believed that the incident was her fault because she couldn’t find a baseball bat in time to stop him. 2. They blame other people (except for the perpetrator) for the attack. In the case cited above the client believed that it was her mother’s fault for allowing herself to be attacked by going downstairs to investigate the noise her father was making as he loaded and unloaded his gun. In cases where clients are the direct recipient of violence from within the family, they are often angry with the other parent or relatives for not protecting them (from the violent parent). If violence comes from outside the nuclear family, they are angry with their parents/their neighbors/the police/the government, etc. for not protecting them. 3. Disconnection from God. It’s God’s fault because ____________. (How could God let this happen? There is no God.) The beliefs about God and faith are the same as in a loss trauma imprint with the addition of “God should have protected me.” In this category of responsibility associated with a violence trauma imprint, I rarely see a client blame the actual perpetrator until after the limiting beliefs are cleared. Usually the client makes excuses for the perpetrator. One client presented with allergies which started immediately after she moved in with her boyfriend who beat her twice a week. She told me that he really loved her, but that he just “snapped” sometimes, and she didn’t want me to be mad at him. Other people use excuses such as “He was drinking and always played with his gun when he got drunk” or “He was crazy and couldn’t help himself.” Often, the client believes that if he only understood why the perpetrator did it (always assuming that there is a rational reason), then the whole feeling of upset around the incident would disappear and everything would be OK. Many people have difficulty with the concept that human beings are capable of evil behavior. According to Harold S. Kushner, if there is truly free will, then God does not control everything and is not responsible for the behavioral choices of man. “But if man is truly free to choose, if he can show himself to be virtuous by freely choosing the good when the bad is equally possible, then he has to be free to choose the bad side also.” ³ “Human beings are free to choose the direction their life will take. Granted, some children are born with physical or mental capacities which limit their freedom of choice. Granted further that some parents mishandle their children badly, that accidental events – wars, illnesses – traumatize children so badly that they may not be able to do something they would otherwise be qualified for, and that some people are so addicted to habits that it is hard to speak of them as being free. But I will insist that every adult, no matter how unfortunate a childhood he had or how habit-ridden he may be, is free to make choices about his life. To say of any criminal that he did not choose to be bad but was a victim of his upbringing, is to make all morality, all discussion of right and wrong impossible.” 4 None of my clients experienced violence in a situation (such as war) where the violence against them could be rationally justified or expected. The irrational conclusions explaining the stack did not make my clients feel any better. It was violent behavior that induced a trauma imprint and “understanding” did not clear the damage at the body level. Thus, I point out to my clients that clearing the negative emotions and limiting beliefs around the responsibility issues is not linked to finding a way to excuse the perpetrator or to justify what he did (a common misconception of the definition of forgiveness.) Rather, we clear the negative emotional charges and limiting beliefs because it is bad for my client’s health and well-being to carry around this kind of emotional distress. When we finished clearing this section of the imprint, the client is able to say, “What the perpetrator did is wrong and I am OK.” b. I don’t feel safe. (I am a victim. I am a target.) This category is related to the feelings of boundary violation and vulnerability as described in Category I, E and F and to the Anticipatory Phobia described in Category IV. The belief may be clear simultaneously with the clearing of these parts of the pattern or may have to be addressed separately. c. People/men/women/hurt me and/or are dangerous and/or are crazy. Although these beliefs are imprinted during a specific violence incident, clients generalize these beliefs across many contexts. 1. Clients approach other people with an a priori attitude of distrust. They assume that other people are u worthy until proven otherwise and wait expectantly for misbehavior to surface. 2. They view gifts and acts of kindness with suspicion (“What does this person want from me?”). Clients find it difficult to ask for help and feel fearful of relying on anyone else for anything they deem important. These beliefs interfere with the client’s ability to make friends, cooperate independently in groups, learn from supervisors or mentors, and have intimate relationships. d. Power and control issues 1. These beliefs manifest themselves as “I am powerless to prevent (or cannot control) other people from attacking me or hurting me.” Often, clients become the target for bullies because they refuse to defend or even assert themselves believing that they are incapable of it,, or that by defending themselves they will only make matters worse. They are unaware that defending themselves often obtains respect from those around them and can actually limit or prevent an attack. This situation can be complicated when the bullies are family members of the client. The client feels conflict about visiting or maintaining a connection with the family. Often previous therapists of these clients recommend that the client stay away from the abusers. The client often feels offended that the therapist is trying to isolate him from his family. At the rational level it is a question of physical or emotional safety, but at the emotional level, the client feels the attachment (blood or a marriage bond is thicker than water). To avoid this conflict, I recommend to my clients that they wait to visit their families until they can protect themselves appropriately. We clear limiting beliefs in this category so that the client can access his full adult power and acknowledge responsibility for his own safety. Then we discuss practical ways to visit safely such as staying in a hotel close to the family home, having a car so that the client can freely exit a problematic situation, or visiting the family only in public places. One of my clients, whose father had seriously injured him as a child, went to visit the family. His father attempted to get his attention during a group discussion by kicking him in the leg. My client calmly told his father not to kick him. His father kicked him again. My client then told his father not to kick him using such a ferocious tone of voice that he attracted the attention of the whole family and froze his father in mid-motion. His father did not kick him again for the rest of the visit or for subsequent visits that year. During her childhood, another client’s father regularly beat her mentally ill mother to the ground and occasionally hit the client. As an adult, the client visited her father once a year on a holiday. During her visit the previous year her father slapped her across the face and demanded that she “come in the house right now.” When I asked her why she didn’t fend off the blow or grab his hand to stop him, she replied that she was afraid that it would incite him to further violence. When I asked her why she visited him, she replied “because he wanted me to.” After we had worked on this issue, she called to inform him that she would not visit him this year because he beat her last year. He actually apologized (my client was shocked) and my client did not visit him this year. 2. Clients feel that power is bad and generalize this belief to all contexts by assuming that anyone who acts powerfully in the world will automatically misuse it. After we clear this belief, we discuss the fact that power, like electricity, money, or knowledge, is not inherently good or bad. The context in which these are used determines the value judgment. 3. Clients often feel afraid of hurting other people if they truly accessed their power. During adolescence, a client attempted to murder her stepfather who repeatedly molested her. She hit him in the back of the head with a large beer bottle causing the bottle to shatter, and her stepfather to get angry and slap her. She felt so guilty about assaulting this man that she decided to give up all her power. She became meek and submissive and remained that way until she began therapy in her late thirties. Upon hearing this story, I asked her, “Did hitting your stepfather on the back of the head succeed in getting him to stop molesting you?” She remarked with surprise that in fact, he had not molested her again. She had been so quick to relinquish her power that she never acknowledged the benefit of her actions. e. I am bad/unlovable/unwanted/undeserving/unworthy. This belief manifests in similar ways to that of a loss trauma imprint. III. Root Cause: the Setup Sometimes when a person experiences violence, there is no root cause. It was just a random act of violence or chaos. For clients who experience repeated episodes of violence, I often look for an initial violence trauma in their early childhood that would make them susceptible to accepting, attracting or inciting violence from strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family members. This is consistent with the assumption that the unconscious mind causes a person to regenerate patterns from earlier in his life in cases where there are unresolved emotions or issues. Sometimes the root cause is a limiting belief that renders one susceptible to violence. A client presented with a history of chronic vaginal infections. In our initial phone conversation I asked her whether she had experienced rape or incest. She explained that she had been subjected to incest from the age of one and a half to fifteen years of age, first by her grandfather and later by her brother. During previous therapy, she had cleared about half of the violence trauma imprint, but had never cleared the initial shock or root cause. I thanked her body for keeping her attention on unfinished business and promised that we would certainly address the remaining issues. She made an appointment for several weeks later and did not experience any more infections (previously, she consistently experienced three-four infections in that time frame) from the time of the initial telephone call through the six months that I followed her. My initial approach was to take her back in time to the first incest experience and clear the shock/fear. Afte