Nightmares, flashbacks, hyper vigilance and insomnia are all typical symptoms of trauma and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But while most sufferers believe that there must be something “wrong” with them, the symptoms are actually part of the human survival system.
Allow Jane to explain.
If a truck ran over our foot, we would expect it to hurt. We would spend time in hospital having the bones reset, sit for weeks in plaster or a hard boot waiting for it to heal, and then undergo a painful exercise regime to rebuild strength. It may be months or years before we would be able to walk on it again – if ever. We hope such accidents won’t happen to us, but sometimes they do, and when they do we deal with the consequences.
Symptoms of our humanity
What we often dismiss, however, is that the brain can get hurt too. If we witness or experience something devastating, ugly or horrific, it will – and should – affect us. In fact, if it didn’t affect us then there’d probably be something wrong with us. We’d be considered hardened, inhumane, a psychopath, or – at the very least – out of touch with our feelings. The symptoms of PTSD happen not because we are weak, but because we are human, seeking to survive like all human beings. Unlike other human beings, however, we have undergone ordeals no-one should ever have to face.
The purpose of nightmares and flashbacks
When nightmares and flashbacks occur, the brain is trying to learn everything it possibly can from a bad experience so that it can spot the signals and keep us from ever having to undergo something like that again. But sometimes this survival system goes into overdrive and prevents us from identifying the true level of threat in front of us. In many of these cases, the brain’s natural information processing system – REM sleep – is unable to place the information into long term memory, either because we’re not sleeping, or because we wake before processing is finished.
How EMDR can help
EMDR therapy facilitates a process that is similar to REM sleep, which takes all of the information about a traumatic incident (including images, sounds, smells and body sensations), combines them into one cohesive experience and files them away into long term memory. At the end of treatment, the memories remain, but they feel firmly in the past. And, if something happens that looks, sounds, smells or feels like the original trauma, we can notice the similarity without feeling as though it is happening all over again.
As a result of this reset, EMDR therapy gives us back our uninterrupted sleep, clears out the flashbacks, and enables us – amazingly – to feel normal again.