mental illness

101 Distraction Techniques: Tools for Intrusive Trauma Symptoms

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101 Distraction Techniques


     When it comes to complex trauma, survivors can face any number of debilitating symptoms — from flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive/overwhelming emotions, to unsafe impulses, unmanaged dissociation, and all the challenges of daily living that are magnified when you're wrestling your mental health. Many skills and therapeutic tools can be vital to getting through, but sometimes they just don't feel like enough. You may've been successful at putting memories away, but are still left in a funky headspace that you can't seem to shake off. Or, maybe you've gotten grounded, but are too flooded with emotions to look at what got you so off-kilter. Sometimes you just need a middle step before you can continue with your other skills. Distraction can be a surprisingly helpful tool, and is often under-appreciated.

     One thing to keep in mind when using distraction is that it's not a long-term solution. Relying on it too heavily, or in place of other therapeutic tools, can actually lead to "stuffing", avoidance, and increasing the dissociation of what's causing you distress. This only makes it more likely to revisit intrusively and when you're least prepared for it. But, when you're really struggling in the short-term, switching gears and doing something completely unrelated can give you the footing you need. Even neurologically speaking, it's very common for those with PTSD to recycle through thoughts, memories and feelings circularly. Betting off that feedback loop can sometimes offer greater reprieve than if you'd stayed on it relentlessly trying to put things away. Activating different parts of the brain that aren't overtired can bolster your resources and give you access to the circuitry vital to thinking with clarity and reason again. Then, when you return, you're much more equipped to tackle things head-on instead of just going along for the ride.

     We've divided our list of 101 Distraction Techniques into three categories based on how much mental and physical effort they require. We know that sometimes all you can manage is what's doable from where you're sitting and/or involving very little mental energy. Other times you need to get moving a bit or start an activity. Then are the occasions where a really complex, elaborate and intricate task is needed to bring you out of the place you've been trapped for so long.

      As with all our of our lists, there will be tools here that aren't helpful for everyone. There may even be some that are triggering, upsetting, or would antagonize some of your specific symptoms. You know yourself and your symptoms best, so use your best judgment, trust yourself, and just pass on the tools that aren't for you. There are a hundred others to choose from!

 

Low-Effort

  1. Watch a TV show. If you don't have cable or a subscription service, many television networks offer free access, without a log-in, until you get closer to the most recent episodes.
  2. Watch a movie. Light-hearted comedy, drama to suck you in, or an old favorite - there are countless films to whisk you away for a bit.
  3. Sing. It doesn't matter if you're a professional vocalist or can't to carry a tune, singing engages a completely different part of your brain. Plus, the vibrations in your chest give great sensory feedback, and the vocalization reminds you of your voice.
  4. Watch cute videos on YouTube. About as low-effort as it gets: puppy/kitty videos, laugh challenges, or Vine compilations, take your pick.
  5. Mindless doodles/finger painting/playing with clay. This may be especially helpful to those with child parts who need an activity of their own.
  6. Grab a snack.
  7. Drum on a surface. Like singing, the vibrations and bilateral stimulation of your hands tapping will engage different parts of your mind and bring your attention you away from what's intruding on you.
  8. Play a game or use a fun app on your phone. Even if you aren't a gamer, search the app store. You might find one that speaks to you. It can be a great escape to get lost in for a bit.
  9. Video games.  Any console, any game!
  10. Tear out words/photos/etc. for a collage. Ask a local doctor's office or hairdresser for their spare magazines. Mindlessly rip out photos and words that speak to you. (Bonus: you may get to put tabloids to good use for once -- they often have the scathing, overdramatic words that happen to be great for a therapeutic collages. Shocking! Betrayal! You Won't Believe It!).
  11. Discover new music. YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, so many ways to find new gems!
  12. Wash your face/hands or brush your teeth. A quick refresher can help you restart your day on a brand new page. 
  13. Re-watch highlights from your favorite sport. It's easy to forget just how many epic, captivating moments there were once some time has passed. Relive your excitement. Plus, you already know how it ends, so you don't have to pay super close attention!
  14. Gratitude list. When your mind only wants to remind you of distressing things, focusing on 10+ things you're grateful for can really take you to a whole new atmosphere in your mind and heart.
  15. Imagery exercises. Containment exercises, healing pool/healing light, guided meditation, so many options!
  16. Play a board game with a friend. Something simple like Sorry!, challenging like chess, or silly like Cards Against Humanity, there are lots of options to distract you in the company of friends.
  17. Card games. Solo works, too, if there's no one around.
  18. Play with a pet. Pets (when they aren't being rotten) are the best distraction!
  19. Listen to a podcast/audiobook. 
  20. Try to laugh without smiling. Trust me, this is something you need in your life.
  21. Color-breathing / breathing techniques. An example of color-breathing here.
  22. Untangle cords/necklaces/strings in a drawer. If this is something that won't aggravate potential OCD behaviors or anxieties, this can be a perfect chore when you need a distraction.
  23. Clean out social media friends lists. Aaaah, just imagine the relief!
  24. Read a children’s book to parts inside. If you're struggling to stay focused, maybe young parts are who need the attention and care most.
  25. Play with a tangle, fidget cube, pin art, sand tray, etc. You can do this right where you're sitting, without needing to think -- a perfect option when you're still heavily in symptoms but trying to come out.
  26. Count by 7’s, list all the prime numbers, divide. Okay, this may be more medium-effort if math isn't your jam, but at least you don't have to go anywhere! ;)
  27. Browse art sites for images you love. Whether it's DeviantArt, flickr, Pinterest or somewhere else, sometimes soothing, fun or beautiful images can bring your mind to a brand new place.
  28. Sit outside and pay attention to all the things in nature. A change of scenery and a chance to connect with the earth can sometimes be all we need.
  29. Apply lotion. If this isn't a personal or sensory trigger, this can be grounding, an act of self-care and a distraction all in one!
  30. Allow yourself a nap. Sometimes that's just the only functional distraction we can muster.



Medium Effort

   31. Puzzle books. Sudoku, crosswords, word finds, variety puzzles, logic problems, take your pick!
   32. Read a book. Any book!
   33. Play music. On your phone, computer, radio, iPod, anywhere! You just might start singing along ;)
   34. Dance party. Let's be honest, this could solve most things in life ;) And, if you think you're too cool for that, turn this on and tell me you don't wanna move. If those don't get you groovin' and you're more modern, give. these. a. go. And, if all else fails: BAM.
   35. Watch videos on a topic you’re unfamiliar with. It's much easier to have your attention captured when you're learning something brand new.
   36. Draw/use an adult coloring book.
   37. Make an Amazon wishlist/Pinterest board of things you want. If you can't escape your current circumstances, envisioning a future time can be a nice way out.
   38. Send texts/messages to friends to check in with them. Concentrating on someone else can be a great way to step out of our own mind and its symptoms. Caring for others also helps reconnect you to the world at large.
   39. Organize all the files on your computer. Most of our workspaces could use a good cleaning up anyway!
   40. Wash your makeup brushes. (Or paint brushes/other work tools.) Yeah, this one probably needed done awhile ago, too! 
   41. Bullet journaling. You can start any time of year, and the structure-combined-with-creativity format can provide a great detailed distraction.
   42. Create a new playlist. One for sleep/relaxation, one to pump you up, a good one for when you're driving or doing chores, or just one for ambient background noise -- put together something you'll love and thank yourself for later.
   43. Take a shower/bath. Concentrate on all the scents and textures for extra grounding, too.
   44. Clean all your electronics. Your phone, your keyboard, laptop screen, earbuds -- they could all use your attention too, if cleaning won't engage OCD loops.
   45. Schedule appointments you’ve been putting off. Call the dentist, women/men's health doctors, insurance company, landlord, whoever you need to see. Make those appointments!
   46. Stretch/do yoga. It's not the answer to all of a body's ails like many often suggest, but it is a phenomenal resource for trauma survivors to get into their bodies, recalibrate their autonomic nervous system through steady breathing, and get out tensions or trapped anxieties that have been buzzing inside.
   47. Write an email or letter to someone. Send some heartfelt kindness to someone who made a huge impact on you, someone you've been thinking about, or those you've been worried about.
   48. Call up a friend/family member. Just to talk about anything and nothing at all.
   49. Write reviews for things you’ve purchased online. Do others a great service while offering yourself a distraction by letting them know what you thought of an item.
   50. Take photos and edit them in really unique ways. Use filters you never use, effects you'd normally never choose, and heck, even take photos of things you'd never bother to capture! Have fun with it! Discover something new and creative. 
   51. Try new ways to style your hair. You never know what new aesthetic you'll fall in love with.
   52. Test out a totally new makeup look or facial hair style. You just might love it!
   53. Follow a DIY tutorial (even if just to laugh at yourself). Hey, we aren't all cut out to be on HGTV!
   54. Research new homes/cars/phones/assistance you may need. These important, highly detail-oriented tasks can really grab your focus and reign you in because it matters.
   55. Paint your nails. Any gender, any age and with any color!
   56. Fold laundry. A slightly mindless task, but one that still requires your attention and coordination.
   57. List your recent accomplishments.  You'll be amazed at just how many things you've done recently that you so easily forget without writing them down. It can be easy to recall the challenges, but the impressive and/or proud memories sometimes fall to the wayside. These can also be incredible to review at the end of a year!
   58. Write a poem/alpha-poem/etc. It doesn't have to be a good poem. ...but, it just might turn out to be anyway!
   59. Watch a documentary. There are some phenomenal ones on YouTube for free if you don't have Netflix/cable -- and they span the range of just about any subject matter!
   60. Creative/expressive writing. There are excellent creative writing prompts online if you're stuck.
   61. Do something childlike. Sidewalk chalk, hopscotch, color with crayons, skip rope. Or, just enjoy this video if you're nervous about letting little you step up.
   62. Buy yourself a small gift. You deserve it.
   63. Do a jigsaw puzzle. There are so many unique kinds out there, too, not just a traditional 500-piece.
   64. Make a handmade gift for someone.
   65. Take a walk. Down the driveway, out in your neighborhood, through a park, on a nature trail, just go anywhere.
   66. Make your own containment box/journal.
   67. Go to the grocery store and buy new foods. Look for things you always wanted to try!
   68. Send positive comments to friends/strangers. Fill up friend's and stranger's social media with kind, helpful, supportive, encouraging and/or complimentary things. We could all use it, but it also makes you feel good, too. You don't have to be fake or forced about it, just say the things you often think but maybe don't always say.
   69. Organize a drawer/closet. This can even leave you feeling as though you've decluttered your mind a bit, too.
   70. Self-care. Look up ASMR videos (if that's okay for you), oddly-satisfying compilations, or other visually/sensorily appealing content that will calm your senses.



HIGHER EFFORT

   71. Go to a movie. Watching at home is great, too, but sometimes getting out of the house, being in the company of others and experiencing a film larger than life can capture your attention in a way that watching at home can't manage.
   72. Make an elaborate meal. Something that requires prep, organization, many steps, and that you follow the recipe correctly -- a good kind of complicated.
   73. Begin learning a new language. We're definitely into the higher-effort category now, but sometimes high levels of concentration and detail are needed to get someone out of the places they've been trapped in for days. A new language is a great way to shift gears entirely.
   74. Begin learning sign language, Braille or another communication skill. Help make life more accessible for others and earn a skill of your own to feel proud about accomplishing.
   75. Learn an instrument. Piano, guitar, ukulele, violin, flute, drums -- what speaks to you?
   76. Build/do construction. Whether you're a beginner or this is your forte, working with your hands and with a variety of pieces/elements can be an excellent distraction.
   77. Go for a drive. Definitely make sure you're grounded enough for a task like this, but if that's in-check and you just need to carve out some fresh space in your mind, hit the road!
   78. Volunteer. Pick a charity, shelter, trash pick-up, soup kitchen, or even just a friend in need. Lend a hand, your heart and your time. Focusing on others is a great way to escape your own trials.
   79. Play a sport. Soccer, basketball, baseball, tennis, volleyball, bowling, so many options!
   80. Work out. Whether you hit the gym, or get moving in your home, a workout (especially with great tunes) can be a great distraction.
   81. Build a house of cards, stack dominoes, etc. Pick your favorite tedious, high-concentration task that demands your full attention!
   82. Garage/shed tasks. Work on your car, clean up a tool or tackle box, stain a shelf, complete other tasks that are waiting for you outside the house.
   83. Repair things around the house. Fix a sink, a broken chair, squeaky door, bent light post.
   84. Organize an event/party/vacation. Fewer things more detailed and task oriented than that!
   85. Go through your clothes/closets and donate what you don't need. Focusing on keep, trash, and donate piles can keep your mind focused in many places at once, leaving room for little else.
   86. Rearrange/redecorate a bedroom or other room in the house. Change of scenery can keep you from falling back into the same spaces of your mind.
   87. Do gardening/landscaping/outdoor work. If you don't have a yard of your own, pot plants for inside your home or offer to help someone else with theirs.
   88. Update your internal world. Many with DID or OSDD have an internal world, and some can add new elements with enough concentration and effort. New rooms, parks, pets, gardens, landscapes, and so much more. Give it an update!
   89. Go out to eat. Peruse the menu and pick something you don't normally get.
   90. Go out for a treat. Grab some fro-yo, dessert, or something enjoyable -- bonus if you do so with others!
   91. Try a Rubix cube/impossible puzzles. Learn how to solve 'em!
   92. Information deep dives. Learn about a social, political, historical topic you always wish you knew more about.
   93. Head out to a coffee shoppe/bookstore. Do the same work, projects, reading, self-care, etc., you’d be doing at home, but in the company of other people.
   94. Go to/look for new public places. Check out local libraries, parks, bookstores, or other small shops you never ever knew existed around you.
   95. Clean out your car/gym bag/purse/wheelchair/wallet/etc.
   96. Finish work you've been putting off. Whether it's school work, take-home tasks for your job, or volunteer projects, get 'em done and cross 'em off your list!
   97. Meet up with a friend/family member.
   98. Visit a barn or farm. Ride horses, learn more about agriculture or animals, experience a different way of living.
   99. Go to an art, space, or historical museum. Learn all there is to know; transport yourself into another time and place.
   100. Money stuffs. Start filing your taxes, collect receipts, balance your accounts, apply for assistance, pay bills, do all those yucky things no one wants to do but has to. It'll demand all of your focus, but then feel like a relief to be done and off your mind. 
   101. Learn a new physical skill. Kickboxing, martial arts, jujitsu, self-defense -- get out all the anxiety, fear, and anger out of your body and begin to feel strong and empowered in your body and what it can do!


~    ~    ~
 

     We sincerely hope this is helpful to you! Feel free to bookmark it for the future, particularly for those times when it feels too hard to even think or remember what you may need. Also, share your go-to distraction techniques below and help us keep this list going! You may have the perfect solution for someone else's distress!

 

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MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

    Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
    Flashbacks 101: 4 Tools to Cope with Flashbacks
    Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
    Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
    DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative Identity Disorder
    Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
    Trauma and Attachment: 3-Part Series on Attachment Theory with Jade Miller
 
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Index: Library of Articles

Index: Library of Articles

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Dissociation and Survival vs. Living: A Survivor's Story

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A CSA Survivor's Relationship with Dissociation, Survival and Living:

     
    "There are many things I wish I could help people understand about childhood trauma; this just happens to be one I hear very little about. Like many survivors, I struggle to hear sentiments like, "Oh my! I'm so so glad that's over now and you got through it!", "I can't believe you got out of that alive. I couldn't even do that now! I'd give up," or "At least you know your worst days are behind you. You know you can conquer anything!". Even resources and groups for trauma survivors, as well as therapists and clinicians, can share quips like "You survived the abuse, you're going to survive the recovery!". While these things intend to uplift or highlight our strength, they all categorically deny the fundamental mechanism that allowed us to survive in the first place, and why adulthood is the real hard part: dissociation.

    Make no mistake, those of us who endured trauma as children are courageously strong. We were forced to be tougher than most; and, by nature or necessity, we became resilient, creative and sharp. But Little Me didn't even experience the bulk of the trauma back then. I wasn't connected to the physical pain or sheer terror; I wasn't incapacitated by shame, disgust or uncleanliness; I wasn't aware of the immorality, nor was I having a crisis of conscience. I also didn't even know who was hurting me for much of my childhood - parts of my mind did, but not me. Little Me wasn't facing the anger or the blistering sting of betrayal from those I loved most hurting me in such inhumane ways. I wasn't yet aware this was abnormal or something that could make me feel alien or 'different' from my peers. I was numb, I was hyperfocused on the things I could control, and I was even made to feel special or self-confident in certain areas very early on. While some of that confidence dwindled over time and I became more aware of my unhappiness and "irrational" fears, none of that compares to what you imagine a tortured child feels — let alone what I was about to feel later in life.

    That suffering is here now. Adulthood is when all of it breaks through and confronts you with a vengeance. No, the abuse is not "over", it is not "behind me", it is not "something I got through". As far as my mind and body are concerned, it is NOW. It is very alive and in full-effect. Each excruciating detail of physical pain, disgust, and revulsion; every tidal wave of anger at those who knew and did nothing; each immobilizing shockwave of new material that re-writes my entire life story from how I once knew it. THIS is when my survival is tested. I am hypervigiliant, terrified, exhausted, unsure if I'm even real. I exist in hollowing spaces of grief for Little Me and the life I should have had. ...lost in an endless state of confusion, horror, disbelief and dismay. It is all day. THIS is live trauma in my brain and body. THIS is my battleground, and I am fighting for my life NOW. As an adult, not as a child.

     Furthermore, the dissociative process not only contorts the timeline of when we experience our trauma, but dissociation as an independent symptom challenges life as an adult, too. (..even beyond the forgetfulness, memory gaps, driving troubles, safety, maintaining a job, etc.) One of the most critical elements in trauma recovery is establishing healthy relationships and improving our overall worldview. It's very hard to want to carry on when all you've known is the absolute worst of mankind. Being able to look around, connect, and believe the world is still good is vital to our sanity, safety and healing. But, dissociation challenges this. It can dull your senses, leave you numb to positive feelings, keep you at an emotional distance from love or affections shown to you. It can keep you trapped in a surreal in-between state of both the past and the present -- where you respond to what's happening today with the same emotional maturity you had as a child. Emotional flashbacks, unexpected triggers, and other sudden symptoms that crop up - particularly in intimate relationships or the more meaningful aspects of life - can complicate joy and frustrate those in your life. But most of all, no one wants to just "be alive", we want to LIVE. Fully and authentically, with all the vibrance and richness available to us. But, dissociation has a way of diluting and blurring the world - stripping it of its color and beauty. How do you hold onto a light that you can barely see, feel or trust is even there?

    Like most all means of sheer survival, dissociation has its pros and cons. Just like chemotherapy and emergency surgery, they can keep you alive, but there are risks. They're also unpleasant in the moment and, separate from the conditions that necessitate these interventions, they alone carry longterm consequences. But, without them, you wouldn't be here -- so it's a constant tug of war with perspective and gratitude. Dissociation is no different. It got me through. It saved my life. It gave Little Me a fighting chance. But it also made life after abuse so darn difficult. Because, I should feel free. The abuse has ended, I am safe. I should be dancing and singing and holding everything I love dear to my chest. But instead, now is when I fight. Now is when I stare down my trauma, my innocence, my perpetrators - all with adult intellect and understanding - and try to decide if this life is worth living and if I'm up for the task.

    It is worth it. And, I am up for the fight. I'm going to do this and will do it with grace and strength. But then, and only then, can you say I survived the impossible or that 'it's over now'. This is the battle. ..and not for just survival, but for life. To make this existence meaningful now. I am going to conquer this. ..the trauma, the feelings, the defeat, the difficult relationships, the dissociation. I will also remain appreciative of what dissociation made possible for me, despite its thorns. I want Young Me to get credit for surviving the horror. But I want Adult Me to be credited for not only surviving more anguish, but for learning to LIVE, too."

 

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MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

    Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
    Flashbacks 101: 4 Tools to Cope with Flashbacks
    Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
    Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
    DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative Identity Disorder
    Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
    Trauma and Attachment: 3-Part Series on Attachment Theory with Jade Miller

 

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4 Tools to Cope with Flashbacks

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    There is no delicate way to put it: flashbacks are just awful. Whether you've just started experiencing these upsetting and intrusive symptoms, or you've been fighting them for years, we know how challenging and exhaustive they can be!  Thankfully, a wide variety of tools and skills exist to help you break free -- each one highly customizable to your specific needs. That said, some of the very best options out there can take some time, and a lot of practice, before you've shaped them into that go-to symptom management tool you can pull on any time. Skills like imagery, containment, split-screen, and a few modulation tools are all incredibly valuable, but they can be quite advanced, and sometimes even turn survivors away from them altogether if introduced too soon. For those new in their healing, options that are very straightforward and uncomplicated can be their greatest lifeline. For those with a full workshop of tools, we know how possible it is for giant waves of new or stubborn trauma material to put even your best skills out of reach. So, items that are extremely easy to recall in a time of panic or crisis, as well as very rudimentary to enact, may be the only efficient skills at your disposal. We hope to be able to offer survivors in all stages of recovery that perfect flashback kit.

    Before we get too far, let's first define what a flashback is! Whether you're a trauma survivor yourself, or a loved one/supporter of one who is are trying to learn more, you may be surprised to learn there are different types of flashbacks:

 

 

 

    So, what can you do?

     We recognize that half the battle when you're struggling is being able to just remember that these tools even exist and are available to you. When you're terrified, feeling very young, or you aren't oriented to the present, it can be really hard to even recognize that you're symptomatic. Try to be compassionate with yourself (or your friend, family member or client) about this. Years upon years, sometimes decades, were spent responding to distress/trauma in the same exact way; it is very hard to retrain the brain to respond differently when you're only presented an opportunity to try every so often. Also, flashbacks stem from a completely different section of our daily-functioning brain. It takes very hard work to override that circuitry, and none of us think very logically or critically when flooded with fear and adrenaline. But, with practice, and by utilizing these skills as early in your symptoms as you can, you'll find they become more habitual and automatic — taking less conscious effort and acting more like muscle memory.

     Let's get to it!

 

 

Grounding

     Your absolute number one, first line of defense for any posttraumatic symptom is to be grounded -- or at least substantially more grounded than you are in that moment. None of your other skills will be effective if you aren't grounded first. (You can learn more about what it means to be grounded, as well as have an entire list of 101 Grounding Techniques at your fingertips, right here on our website!) We do know it can sometimes feel impossible to practice grounding before you've put a memory away, especially if that memory is what's fueling your dissociation and making you ungrounded. But, if you're heavily dissociated, and stuck in the past, you're only putting the memory away in the past - not in the here and now. It will continue to find you in this timeline. As you start the grounding process, you'll find that some of the intensity of the trauma material backs down, freeing you up to use other skills that you may have more completely (i.e. containment or modulation); this takes things down another notch, allowing you to get even more grounded, and so on. A positive loop.

    What are some of the best, most-easily accessible grounding tools?:

  • Open your eyes. Uncover your ears. Make as many senses available as you can!

  • Look around. Try to label 5 things you can see, 5 things of a single color, 5 things of one shape.

  • Listen. What do you hear? Is it close or far? Loud or soft? Pleasant or grating?

  • Open up, feet on the floor. If you're curled into a ball, or have your feet tucked up on the chair, try to put them on the floor and press your feet firmly into the ground. Become rooted to the space you’re in (no longer lifted or untethered to anything, just like your currently dissociative mind), but especially free yourself of those childlike, fear-based positions that continue to alert to your brain that you’re in danger. We know they feel self-soothing, but they’re doing the exact opposite to your mind,

  • De-trance. If you are rocking, tapping, swaying a limb, clicking, or engaging in any other rhythmic, trancing motion, try to start slowing it to a pause or make sure it’s no longer a pattern.

  • Sit upright. If you are slouching deep in your seat or laying down on your bed, try to sit up. Lying prone can be very disorienting and triggering for many.

  • Orient. Remind yourself of the date, your age, where you are, and that you're safe now.

  • Movement. If you feel frozen and unable to move, start by just trying to wiggle your toes or finger tips. Slowly work up the body, little by little, until you regain movement.

  • Smell. Inhale strong fragrances (they don't have to be pleasant!). Coffee, candles, lemon, lotions, the kitty litter, it doesn’t matter! Just awaken yourself to what’s before you.

  • Taste. Chew gum, eat mints, or suck on sours. Eat a meal or snack. Drink a very cold or warm beverage.

  • Touch. Run your fingers over unique textures within reach. Your clothes, the furniture, a zipper, a pet, a grounding stone or fidget item.

   There are many, many other grounding tools, as well as a more detailed explanation as to why and how they are helpful, in our aforementioned article, so we'll move on to our next step!

 

 

Self-Talk

     Our inner monologue is far more important and powerful than we tend to give it credit. Self-talk during a flashback can be part of your grounding or be used to keep you calm and steady while you employ other techniques.  It can be hard to access your grounding skills (or other tools) if you’re in a panic and can't remember what's even happening to you or who you are. Self-talk can be a vital skill that allows everything else to fall into line.

   You can say things to yourself like:

  • "This is a flashback. It is just a flashback; it is not real. This is not happening right now."

  • "I am safe now. No one is presently harming me. There is no external threat to my safety right now."

  • "I am an adult now. My name is ______. I am ____ years old. It is 20__."

  • "This will not last forever. I have the power to make this symptom go away."

  • "I am competent. I am able. I have done this before."

  • "It's important that I get grounded. Dissociating can feel safer, but I've learned it puts me and others at risk. I can do this."

  • "I can ask for help. I am worthy, even if that's hard to believe right now."

  • "This is temporary. I can feel it getting easier already. I will be okay."

  • “I am in control. I get to decide when and how this leaves. I have the power now.”

   Find a mantra or phrase that feels right to you, something you know you'll remember when it's time. Talk yourself through the process. It is healthy, helps keep you planted in reality, and reminds you of the power you have now that you didn’t before.

 

Separating Past from Present

     Separating past from present can work on many levels as a combination of self-talk, grounding and reality-testing. It's also a tool outsiders or loved ones can help you with, too! No longer all up to you! During a flashback, it's very easy to be disoriented from the current time or place. You could feel like you're all the way back in the 80's, believe you're a small child, or just in a completely different environment than you truly are. Taking the time to label - in your mind, out loud or in writing - all the things that are different now from the past you're reliving, can help your mind tease apart the complete lack of safety you feel from the security of your present environment.

   Some examples:

  • "It is 20__, not [date/timeframe of the flashback]"

  • *look at body* "These are adult hands and feet. I am taller now." Observe other physical changes like tattoos, body modifications, health changes, wrinkles or grey hairs.

  • "There were no smartphones back then. TVs didn't look like this. I didn't have a laptop or desktop computer like this." Notice other anachronisms and things that couldn’t have existed at the time of the memory.

  • "I live on my own now. This is MY house/apartment. I can drive now. I have children/a spouse/a partner now. These are my car keys. This is my drivers’ license/ID."

  • “I am currently outside. That happened inside. (Or vice versa.) It was nighttime then, but it’s noon now.” Name several other environmental differences, Rooms, time, days, furniture, clothes, etc.

  • "I have a voice. Before I would have been too scared to even make a sound right now." [Then use your voice in any form to prove to yourself that it's safe to do so.]

  • "I am a strong, competent adult now; I am no longer a helpless child. I have options to ensure my own safety, and the safety of others, and I employ them."

  • Label any changes about your abuser(s): their age, location, relationship to you, if they has passed, etc.

  • Label any other major life changes: geographic locations, professions, people you know now that you didn't back then, other appearance changes, pets, etc.

  • List (or listen to) popular music, movies, entertainment you enjoy now. Remind yourself these things did not exist back then.

  • Acknowledge the positive supports you have in your life now: new pets, friends, a therapist, a partner, family members, etc.

 

 

Internal Communication

     Internal communication is a bit more specific to those with DID/OSDD, but can still be applicable to those with C-PTSD or PTSD in different ways. It is also not quite an "easy, basic skill", as was the case in the other tools offered. This is definitely more of an advanced skill, however, it is very important to include because failing to check inside has the potential to render alllll your other grounding/symptom management tools ineffective. It may come as a surprise to some, but alters in a DID/OSDD system, or even just parts of a less compartmentalized C-PTSD individual, are capable of sending flashbacks your way on purpose. It is not always with nefarious or hurtful intent. It's often with the counterintuitive desire to protect or is being used as a means of communication. This may look like handing you pieces of memory they feel are important for you to know, feel, or be reminded of, or showing you what they’ve been struggling with alone for weeks - ‘asking for help’ in the only way they know how.  When this is the case, using symptom management to make the flashback go away may just exhaust you.

     If you already have some well-established communication inside of your mind, you can certainly ask them these questions more directly. But, if you aren't there yet, or if you don't have differentiated alters at all, you can still send these thoughts back into your mind and see what bubbles up. For those who are just starting to establish communication with their system, sometimes opening that line during a flashback can be the first successful connection to come through.

   Some questions you can ask alters/your mind: (Then, open yourself up to allow the answers)

  • "Is there a reason I'm being shown this flashback right now? Is someone sending this to me?"

  • "What are you trying to communicate by making me relive these images/feelings/physical pain?"

  • "Is someone else in a flashback but came/got too close to the front of the mind? Can we do a role call and see that everyone is grounded and present?"

  • "Are you trying to make me feel as unsafe as YOU feel right now about something else happening in our life?"

  • "Do you want to scare me back into silence?" "Is this your way of reminding me we aren't supposed to talk or tell anyone?"

  • "Are you trying to incapacitate me? ...make it so that I can't go to work/go out with a friend/accomplish x task/leave the house/see x person/etc?" "Why are you afraid of me doing that?"

  • "Did something trigger you that I don't know about? Did you see/hear/feel something really familiar that I didn't notice?"

  • "Are you feeling ignored? ..like I don't care? ..like I'm not listening to you or taking your feelings into consideration? Are there other ways you could get my attention that don't include re-traumatizing me?"

  • "Are you oriented to the present? I know that it's 201_, but do you? How can we work on getting grounded together? Do you need to look through my eyes or feel in the body that we are safe and not in danger right now?"

  • "Did someone else inside order you to share this memory with me? If so, you can say so without revealing yourself to me. I want to talk to them, not you; you're not in trouble."

  • "Am I being punished for something? Can it be shared with me what I did ‘wrong’ or which rules I broke without this flashback? I can't have a conversation with you about it or make amends if I can't think straight."

   There are many ways to appeal to parts inside to get to the root of why a flashback may have been sent your way. It is also possible to send these thoughts throughout the mind even if you do not have parts or a system. Many aspects of the mind may still be operating under similar pretenses and using these symptoms as a protective defensive mechanism -- maladaptive as that may be. Appealing internally may strike a chord and enlighten you to what the real issue is. The answer may just "click" the moment you ask, even if you can't hear a direct/"audible" reply. Once that has been discovered, you will be better able to tackle things appropriately, to meet that need or fear, instead of just exhausting yourself on symptom management skills that won't work until that primary issue is resolved.

 

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     We sincerely hope these four basic, foundational tools will be able to help you find relief and distance during a flashback -- no matter what stage you're at in your healing. Once armed with more stability and a framework from which to work, you can then explore more detailed and elaborate skills with confidence!  We will absolutely be covering more of those, namely imagery, containment, modulation, and the various journaling tools that are extremely helpful in the fight against flashbacks. (We've already introduced a couple!) So, stay tuned. 

     Please don't hesitate to share some of your go-to strategies for flashbacks below and consider bookmarking this page for quicker, more direct access should you need it while you're struggling!

 

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MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

  ✧  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  ✧  Distraction 101: 101 Distraction Tools
  ✧  Self-Care 101: 101 Self-Care Techniques
  ✧  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  ✧  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
  ✧  DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative Identity Disorder
  ✧  Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
  ✧  Trauma and Attachment: 3-Part Series on Attachment Theory with Jade Miller
 
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Article Index  ❖

Trauma and Attachment (with Jade Miller): Part Three

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The Healing Process

   We are so honored and eager to bring to you the third and final installment from guest host and author, Jade Miller, who has created a three-part series on attachment and how it relates to trauma. We have already covered the basics on Attachment Theory, the way childhood trauma affects attachment, as well as our goals for this series in previous articles. If you missed those, we strongly encourage you to go back and take a look; they provide a more comprehensive background that will help make this information more applicable. But, worry not, there's enough review here that you'll still be able follow along if you've only got a minute!  Please be sure to check out all the wonderful things you need to know about Jade below! We are truly thankful to her for allowing us to bring you her insights and wisdom, and want you to be able to locate and appreciate all of her other work, too.

 


Changing Unhealthy Patterns

 

    At this point you may have absorbed the information in this series about attachment styles and trauma and made the realization that you have some unhealthy patterns. In that case, you’re in good company.  There are very few people who had healthy enough parents to raise them in an ideal environment that fostered a secure attachment style.

    There is a lot of information out there on attachment styles and its effect on children and even their lifelong relational patterns. But, unfortunately, there is not as much information on what this looks like in adults or its implications for them. Some suggested reading is the information on adult attachment provided by Fulshear Treatment Center, which can be found here

    The good news is, many professionals do believe unhealthy patterns can be changed, and I have found this to be true in my own life. Due to the brain’s lifelong neuroplasticity, neuroscientists believe it is possible to change ingrained thought patterns and learn newer, healthier coping skills. So let’s dive right in to some places where positive change can lead to healthier relationships.

    Please keep in mind as you read these suggestions that I realize they all sound much easier than they really are. There is zero intent to sound reductive - quite the opposite, really. I’ve been in the position of knowing that these things were a struggle for me, and feeling lost and unsure of how to change. I offer these thoughts in an attempt to simplify it and make it sound more attainable. But I know that there are layers and complexities to these thoughts and behaviors, and that changing ingrained patterns takes a lot of time, attention and, quite often, sheer will. However, it absolutely can be done.

 

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Avoidant (also called Dismissive) Attachment Style:

The avoidant attachment style has a positive self-image but a negative worldview. So, this person typically does not seek help from outside resources. Their trust in others is low, and they are usually unwilling to be vulnerable or let people come close. 

People with the avoidant attachment style can work on changing these patterns by practicing taking emotional risks in their relationships. They'll need to learn how to communicate when they are feeling needy or vulnerable, and practice allowing someone to be present with them in those times. Those with the avoidant attachment style have a tendency to believe, deep down, that no one else is safe or trustworthy. This type of thinking will have to be challenged and replaced with a healthier perspective. They can also learn to identify people who display characteristics of true safety versus perceived, and form quality friendships where they can start to practice letting those people see their real selves.

 

Anxious (also called Ambivalent) Attachment Style:

The anxious attachment style presents with a negative self-image but a positive worldview. This person usually seeks help from outside resources but they have few internal resources upon which to draw. They trust others – oftentimes a bit too much – but they haven’t developed very much trust in their own self. They are often described as needy, clingy, and codependent.

People with an anxious attachment style can start to find ways to feel secure within themselves, without needing constant contact with others in order to feel like they are okay. One way to do this is to work on improving their self-esteem. They will need to intentionally set out to learn what is important to them as an individual and why they are valuable as their own person. They require practice in valuing their own selves equally as much as they value the needs and expectations of others around them. Allowing others to become a complement to their independent and secure selves is where they'll find their healthiest relationships.

 

Disorganized Attachment Style:

The disorganized attachment style has the double whammy: a negative worldview and a negative self-image. In short, those with a disorganized attachment style will require help changing both of those things. Some of the strategies for each of the other insecure attachment styles may be helpful, but often people with disorganized attachment styles have underlying trauma that needs to be addressed before those changes are truly feasible without causing more unexpected distress.

While those with each of the insecure attachment styles would benefit from therapy, those with the disorganized attachment style may be most in need of the extra support. Changing one’s self-image and one’s view of others to a more positive outlook can be challenging all on your own. Without an anchor point on at least one side of a relationship, it can extremely hard to determine for yourself what a safe, healthy and balanced relationship would even look like -- let alone trying to go about achieving it. A therapist who is educated in attachment theory can help those with a disorganized attachment style to work through attachment-related traumas and make progress in attaining a healthier self-image and a more positive view of others. 
 


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     So, we have come to the end of our series on attachment and trauma. We know this information can be a lot to digest, and even very painful. Having to uncover all of the ways in which you may have been disadvantaged before you even had a chance, can be such an emotionally-charged experience. Allow yourself the permission to grieve those things; to be angry, upset, and sad about them. Yet, on the flip side, we sincerely hope we've also been able to provide you with clarity, understanding and even real hope. Sometimes, just knowing what you're up against, and to have someone explain to you why all the changes you've been trying to make may not have been the most successful, it can be relieving and even alleviate self-blame. And, knowing there are real things you can do to change how you see yourself and the world around you - that it doesn't have to feel so chaotic and confusing all the time - can present a real opportunity for feeling optimistic. And, we know how hard optimism can be for so many of you!

    We want to thank Jade for all of her hard work on this series. Not only did she bring to you the best-researched information on this topic, she did so having gone through this exploration herself and wholly empathizing with every way this can be difficult and painful.  ...but also knowing it is ultimately really worth doing. We hope you have found this series valuable, and if you have, please be sure to let Jade know below, or find her on her various platforms to pass along the appreciation (or questions!).  We are also glad to answer any of your questions, so don't hesitate to ask!  Thank you, Jade, and to all of you who brave the hard task of facing the things that are difficult head on, and working to make those positive changes in your life. You are a beacon of light to us all.

 

 

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    Jade Miller would describe herself as a blogger, artist, SRA survivor, peer worker, and member of a poly-fragmented DID system.  ..who also desires to bring education and awareness about the reality of SRA/DID to the public and increase the number and availability of resources to survivors for healing.  We would firmly agree, and also add that she's a fantastic advocate, with an abundance of passion, knowledge and experience of which we can all benefit.  Her blog is not only an invaluable resource, but she's also a published author with some must-read material.  Notably for survivors are her two illustrated books for younger parts of DID systems called Dear Little Ones and Dear Little Ones (Book 2: About Parents)!  You can even listen to her read it on YouTube, and see the illustrations.  She's also written books on Attachment and Dissociation, and has also compiled her experiences of struggle and healing into more personal books in the past.  All of these are very well worth your time, and we strongly encourage you to seek out all of her published work as well as her online presence (listed below).  We are super honored to partner with her to bring you this series and deeply value her support to us, and to survivors everywhere!
 

FIND JADE ON ALL HER PLATFORMS!

  -  Thoughts From J8  (blog)         -  Amazon Author Page
  -  Facebook                                    Pinterest
  -  Twitter                                       -  LinkedIn

 

MORE INFORMATIVE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

  -  DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative identity Disorder
  -  Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
  -  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  -  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  -  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light

 

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