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One of my favorite books that I’ve ever read about PTSD recovery Dr. Glenn Schiraldi’s, The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook. To call this a “sourcebook” is an understatement.
Whether you’re just beginning to learn about symptoms of posttraumatic stress or wanting to develop a deeper understanding of a single topic in the PTSD and trauma mix this book is a fantastic guide — which is why I’m so excited today to post an excerpt from the newly expanded version….
By Dr. Glenn Schiraldi
Guilt is an unpleasant feeling. In guilt we feel responsible for what happened. Our conclusion is that our role in the event resulted in the negative outcome. Guilt is not a useless emotion. Guilt affirms morality. We would be concerned, for example, about a drunk driver who felt no remorse for injuring someone. We would hesitate to form a relationship or enter into business with someone who had no conscience.
Guilt is a motivator for change. If we hurt someone we care about, guilt helps us to improve our behavior. Guilt is an ally when it leads directly to a satisfactory resolution. It can help us see clearly what happened so that we can make needed adjustments and then put the guilt to rest. Unresolved guilt keeps memories emotionally charged and in active memory.
To integrate memories, we must recall the memory fragments in sufficient detail to put them back together again, and then emotionally defuse the whole memory so that it can be stored in long-term memory. To begin this process, let’s begin by considering how we might be experiencing guilt.
What we do, think, or feel. Examples are:
What we fail to do, think, or feel. Examples include:
The successful resolution of guilt follows a course similar to other intense feelings common to PTSD:
We can’t process what is not adequately retrieved from memory. If we avoid thinking about the event, then memory fragments will intrude, but not sufficiently for processing. Unresolved guilt continues to be replayed like a broken record. In attempts to kill the pain, we numb our conscience and sensitivity to the pain of others while becoming unable to emotionally connect with them.
Many inaccuracies can enter our memories during the stress of a traumatic focused on survival that we do not see the whole picture. We may assume an exaggerated sense of responsibility and underappreciate mitigating circumstances. These views are never effectively challenged as one tries to “just forget the past and move on.”
Without complete processing, many other unkind ideas remain unchallenged. Shame often rides in on guilt’s coattails. Shame goes one step further than guilt, saying, “Not only did I do something bad, but I am bad to the core.” Shame is frequently a pattern learned in childhood. Perhaps the survivor felt
worthless when she was abandoned, or was constantly given messages of badness. The child does not think to question these messages, and so remains vulnerable when a traumatic event later occurs. A variety of other unkind ideas can be learned and connected to the trauma. If they remain unchallenged, they retain their ability to disturb the survivor. The following list is a sampling of distortions and core beliefs that are often associated with guilt.
In order to begin the processing of the guilt aspects of your traumatic memory, please respond to the following questions. This is now just a fact-gathering exercise.
Think of yourself as a reporter researching a story. I suggest writing the answers because writing tends to make the processing slower and more deliberate. You might prefer to speak your responses to your therapist.
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