Trauma Exposure as a Treatment Option

I’ve been reading about DBT as one recently promoted form of therapy that’s said to be effective in regard to a number of clinically relevant personality disorders and psychological symptoms. One of my former therapists – whom I consider a slouch, b.t.w. given her poor treatment attempts and being generally unorganized – favored this to be the therapy of choice. And one aspect of DBT is repeated exposure with triggering situations and learning ways of dealing with the outcome of that situation. I guess, tonight’s walk falls into that category. But in order to make sense, I have to back up a bit:

Abandonment, helplessness and being subject to abuse without a means of turning to someone else or addressing the situation (helplessness again) are the main causes for my chronic lifelong c-ptsd. Hence, standing up for myself was not exactly a part of my training. In coping with the experience of real inferiority to more powerful entities, I guess I have overcompensated by submitting to perceived or real superiority too quickly. At least this is my analysis of a situation that happened two days ago, when I took my daily walk around the village where I live. It had almost gotten dark and it was a very windy, stormy day. As I turn into an unpaved side alley between a set of mansions, I notice a person walking at about 60 feet in front of me. They were headed in the same direction as I and about 0.3 miles later, I caught up to them. By that time, we had already made our way from the dark side alley back into the streetlights and a paved street with boardwalks. I had assumed that person to notice me when approaching and eventually passed them on the inner half of the boardwalk where there was room. As I do, I briefly look their way and nod en lieu for a greeting, which was responded to with a short sort of snort or some sound of that nature. I head on and a few steps later, the person catches up and stops me by addressing me very loudly and aggressively, demanding me to explain myself in terms of my sudden passing. I could tell the person was beside themselves and since I had already run into a lunatic some years ago, which ended without physical harm, but involved a mutual shout out, I resorted to deescalating the situation by replying as composed and calmly as possible, showing no signs of fear or aggression on my part. I should add that this person also threatened me with murder in the 2nd should I not comply. So I was aware of serious business going on. I then explained the situation as best as possible, which seemed to calm them down a little and I meant to head off. The person kept following me and kept interrogating me of sorts, while tossing in an awkward personal history to put it mildly. I figured I was o.k. as long as no physical contact happened, so I relented, which seemed to further deescalate the situation to almost normal. I say “almost normal”, because at this point we had other passers by come towards us and they didn’t seem to figure an unusual situation. About another half mile later I finally got to split ways after having to listen to another almost 5 minutes of monolog. Due to the still somewhat higher pitch and aggressive wording, I was now convinced I dealt with a lunatic, so my strategy of deescalation was probably the best choice in this situation. Eventually, I headed away and they went their ways.

My initial relief turned into analyzing what had just happened and later at home into being annoyed and downright pissed. I then decided to call the police and enquire about possible options, like e.g. whether I should and can report the person, whether it was a good idea considering my own safety and that of others and we decided against reporting them for now. But let’s just say, my evening was ruined. All I knew, though, was that I wouldn’t back down by altering my route or doing anything defensive. I decided to have mace on me before going on my walk from now on, particularly so as I thought to remember having run into the person before at a much later time. They had been calm and almost friendly that night, which confirms my assumption that we have a very unstable, erratic person here.

Yesterday and today, I went for a walk in the same place. I decided I’d probably come around from this disturbing experience the fastest, if I returned to my routine right away. So I took my walk yesterday afternoon, while it was still light and today, but again later tonight in full darkness and at around a time when I had run into him the first time.

I am not all sure, what I felt when the entire episode occurred. I guess, discomfort is an accurate description, some mild tension on my part, but surprisingly not much alarm or any uncomfortable physical sensation I know from triggers (like hyperventilation, sweating, higher pulse and such). Discomfort and resentment were probably the strongest feelings. So when I went there tonight after midnight and sensed fairly strong physical sensations. I’m not sure, whether those were on account of having eaten something my system is incompatible with last night downtown or from a physical response to the situation that “arrived” with a delay of two days. At one time, I had to sit down, rest for a minute and get my bearings, before I was able to continue. When I did, the thought entered my mind that this might actually work as a fast-paced way to deal with and ideally lose mild to medium trauma outcomes: By exposing myself to the situation while the response is still present in my body, but now experiencing an all different situation in order to remind myself (and my body) that I’m not always and automatically at harm when physically being in the same location where the outburst occurred. In other words: Maybe this may programmatically function as a tool to break the event-location-smells and other sidelining aspects-connection that the brain memorizes in order to recognize a similar, possibly dangerous situation faster.

What are your thoughts on this idea? In any case: No run-in this time and it feels as if I have reclaimed my territory in a manner of speaking. (I’ll keep the mace at hand though from now on. Clearly the guy is off his rockers and potentially dangerous seeing as he threatened to kill me…)

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