the founder of The Leadership Practice and its affiliate Sexual Health of Orange County, CA. As a certified sex therapist, certified sex addiction therapist, certified clinical partner specialist and certified EMDR therapist, Sibylle is treating teens and adults experiencing sexual difficulties and compulsions. She is also an Assistant Faculty of Vanguard University of Southern California where she teaches and oversees the graduate research projects of Vanguard’s Master’s of Organizational Psychology students.
Sibylle’s research and publications are focusing on self-regulation and self-leadership. She enjoys her family, surfing, and Southern California’s weather.
How do you know you are dealing with multiple traumas?
There is no perfect life, we all have to deal with situations such as loss and grief, betrayal, unforeseen changes, and circumstances beyond our control. At the same time, if we experience such situations on a regular basis (e.g., chronic betrayal, rejection, several deaths in the family within a short period of time), we are affected by multiple, possibly traumatic events. Especially when we do not have the right resources in place for coping (e.g., friends or family who support us, a boss that gives us a lighter work load until we have adjusted, the finances and health to engage in physical exercise and healthy dieting), we can feel overwhelmed and our body is more affected by the trauma than with healthy coping mechanisms in place. In addition, even if we are not facing multiple traumatic situations, the recent news and social media updates can, unfortunately, give us what we call “secondary” trauma: trauma not because we ourselves had to go through a tough situation but trauma that we witnessed others go through. Natural disasters. Scandals. Uncontrollable events such as shootings. And with chronic “re-plays” of those events in the media, our bodies get the message that we part of uncontrollable trauma, even if we are not directly affected by it. You know that you are dealing with multiple layers if you feel distracted, irritable, frozen or helpless, experience “re-plays”, feel your body go through a physical response (e.g., sweating, tingling, feeling “checked out”, unable to focus, comfort eating, too much or too little sleep).
We may also feel this way if one of our loved ones is struggling with one (ore more) addiction(s): when we witness someone whose brain is on “autopilot”: “I want [the substance, shopping, playing video games, porn] what I want when I want it”: addictions in others (and ourselves) produce an increase of chaos, unmanageability, and a loss of performance in relationships and at work.
Ways to cope:
The good news is that there are ways to decrease the impact of multiple layers of trauma. As a rule of thumb: if you are dealing with a lot, you may need to work with a counselor or professional trained in dealing with multiple levels of trauma: this person can help you sort through the feelings, reduce the impact of trauma on your life (especially when the person is trained in EMDR therapy , an experiential type of therapy that allows your body to systematically release disturbance from traumatic events), and help you develop strategies to deal with situations that cause you to feel overwhelmed. If you are affected by someone who is dealing with multiple addictions, you deserve a village of support so that you do not get “sucked into” the chaos and unmanageability associated with addictive behaviors. 12 Step groups for family members of individuals with addictions can be helpful if the group is sensitive to the fact that one is experiencing trauma by witnessing another person’s addiction(s).
If you happen to be the one who is dealing with one (or several) addictive behaviors, the help of a professional trained in a “task based” approach to addiction recovery is needed so that you can complete recovery related tasks that will decrease the addiction(s) ruining your life- “talk” therapy where you simply get to talk about your addiction, often does not provide enough to decrease addiction(s). Interview the counselor who says he/she specializes in addictions. Do they have a rigorous program that help you reduce the problematic behaviors that keep you in “addiction” mode? How will the counselor be firm with you? Are they knowledgeable about how the brain needs to be “rewired” if it is affected by trauma and/or (multiple) addiction(s).
How can one help another person affected by trauma and/or (multiple) addiction(s)?
The best picture on how to help another person who may be dealing with trauma and/or addiction(s) is the one of the parent traveling with a minor in an airplane. As oxygen masks need to be worn, the parent is advised to put on the mask first before helping others. While you may not be the literal parent of the person who is struggling with addiction, putting on your own oxygen mask is crucial. Finding a trauma sensitive support group (visit several before you decide on a good fit) or therapist sensitive to trauma/trained in trauma reduction is vital. Your support comes first, no matter how urgent your loved one’s needs for treatment may look to you.
How you will know that you are being set free from trauma?
Effective trauma reduction therapy consists of reducing the trauma and of giving you strategies to cope better. You will feel a shift once the trauma leaves your body, as noticeable in more energy, less physical and psychological pain, better sleeping and less feelings of anxiety, hypervigilance, and depression. Clients describe it as “coming out of a dark tunnel into the light”, “an awakening”, having energy to do what they want to do. Feeling more in control and empowered to communicate their wants and needs in a healthy way. A lot of times, unprocessed trauma is also the reason for someone’s (multiple) addiction(s), and the reduction of trauma a lot of times helps the person to be less driven to addictive behaviors. At the same time, reducing trauma is not enough to stop addictions: a person dealing with addictions needs to learn how to not engage in addiction behaviors to successfully overcome the addiction(s).