NYC Psychotherapist Blog

power by WikipediaMindmap

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Managing Your Emotions While Working Through Psychological Trauma

I have been discussing managing emotions and emotional intelligence in my last several articles:  

Developing Emotional Management Skills With Experiential Therapy).

Managing Your Emotions While Working Through Trauma

In the current article, I'll be discussing managing your emotions while working through psychological trauma in therapy.

What is Emotional Dysregulation?
Emotional dysregulation refers to problems controlling or regulating emotional responses.  

Common Symptoms of Adult Emotional Dysregulation 
Emotional dysregulation can include some of the following symptoms:
  • Crying for seemingly no reason
  • Abrupt shifts in mood
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Shame
  • Anger
  • Problems calming yourself
  • Problems soothing yourself
  • Intense emotional reactions that are out of proportion to the situation
  • Feeling easily overwhelmed
  • Problems coping with stress
  • Conflict in interpersonal relationships
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Substance misuse
  • Compulsive behavior, including gambling, overspending, eating

Unresolved Childhood Trauma 
As I mentioned in a prior article, when childhood development goes well, children learn to manage their emotions with the help of their caregivers.  

However, when there is childhood neglect or physical, emotional or sexual abuse, this is traumatic, and if children don't get help from their caregivers, they often experience difficulty managing their emotions.

How a History of Unresolved Childhood Trauma Affects Adults
Without assistance, traumatized children often grow up to be traumatized adults who have problems with emotional dysregulation.

When this occurs, these adults have problems dealing with adversity in their personal or work-related relationships because they feel easily overwhelmed.  

Some people become so overwhelmed that they experience a trauma response of either fight, flight, freeze or fawn.

Clinical Vignette: Managing Your Emotions While Working Through Trauma
The following vignette, which is a composite to preserve confidentiality, illustrates how clients in trauma therapy learn to prepare for processing trauma by developing coping skills and strategies beforehand:

When Sara began experiential therapy to work on unresolved childhood trauma, she was told by her therapist that there is a preparation phase for doing trauma work.

The preparation phase consisted of helping Sara to develop the necessary coping skills and strategies to help her with any uncomfortable emotions that might come up during a therapy session or between sessions (see my article: Developing Coping Strategies in Trauma Therapy Before Processing Trauma).

At first, Sara felt a little disappointed to hear that she and her trauma therapist wouldn't delve right into her traumatic memories.  She had waited a long time to come to trauma therapy for the unresolved trauma which affected her ability to trust in her partner.  She wanted to overcome her unresolved trauma as soon as possible. She didn't want to wait.

However, her therapist provided Sara with psychoeducation about emotional triggers that could come up during or between sessions and her therapist wanted Sara to be prepared to deal with those triggers if they came up.

Sara was familiar with triggers because she often found herself reacting to stories on TV or in movies where someone was being assaulted.  Those scenes brought back painful memories of being hit by her father.

The first resource her therapist helped Sara to develop was the Relaxing Place Meditation (also called the Safe Place meditation), which allowed Sara to shift her awareness from any difficult emotions to a calm place so her mind and body would be soothed and she could deescalate from anxiety or any other uncomfortable emotions.

Her therapist also helped Sara to develop a resource called imaginal interweaves, a concept from Attachment-Focused EMDR therapy, where Sara named people in her life that she felt close to whom she could imagine as nurturing, powerful and wise figures if she felt the need to imagine them during trauma processing.

Sara also developed other coping strategies on her own, including attending yoga regularly and working out at the gym for stress management.

When Sara began processing her childhood trauma with EMDR therapy, she was glad her therapist prepared her beforehand with resources because she used all of those coping strategies to manage her emotions between sessions.

She also found many of these coping strategies useful during her daily life when other everyday stressors came up.

Processing the trauma with EMDR went a lot smoother because of the preparation, and Sara learned valuable emotional regulation skills to use in her daily life.

When to Seek Help in Trauma Therapy
If you have attempted to deal with emotional dysregulation and unresolved trauma on your own and you haven't been able to overcome your problems, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional who is a trauma therapist.

Managing Your Emotions While Working Through Trauma

Remember: Your unresolved trauma and emotional dyregulation don't define who you are (see my article: You Are Not Defined By Your Psychological Trauma).

Working with a trauma therapist can help you to develop the necessary skills to manage your emotions and work through unresolved trauma (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I am a trauma therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.