I am living with PTSD. I am full of vitality. I am more present with my family and career than ever before. I am more compassionate with myself and others. I am more energized. I got to this place with hard work and by trying various techniques and therapies. The modalities that have allowed me to process and then integrate my memories, emotions, and pain into my life, as opposed to those that encouraged me to release my memories, emotions, and pain from my life, have been the modalities that have helped me move forward and feel vital again.
The Difference Between Integrate and Release
Picture someone “releasing.” You are probably seeing someone having a physical response, like a big cry. This physiological response is what is commonly used to determine that someone is “releasing” something overwhelming.
But let’s take a closer look at this response. This “release” usually involves a person reliving an experience or an emotion that is so strong it is completely overwhelming, making it by definition, traumatic. When someone experiences being overwhelmed, whether it is in that moment, or returning to that moment in a felt memory, their limbic system, which cannot tell time, takes over. “My person is overwhelmed RIGHT NOW,” it exlsims, activating flight, fight, or collapse. This response is a stress response. Their nervous system is doing its job, but this stress, while protective, is inherently not healing.
Now picture someone integrating a traumatic experience. That is harder to do because it is a process, and although it may have lots of “AHA!” moments, it unfolds relatively quietly. When folks “integrate” past traumas they often process them with a counselor. Their most meaningful relationships are often impacted. Their emotions and memories become less overwhelming and are no longer the primary driver of the decision-making process. Their trauma no longer defines them; it has been integrated into their whole being and that whole being is in the driver’s seat now. Integration takes a lot of work and only comes after a traumatized person has found a sense of safety and stability, and has done work grappling with the impact of their trauma.
So let us go back to this person that has “released.” What happened after this activation? Can you picture it? Is the traumatic memory or at least its overwhelming impact gone as implied by the word “released?” Do they have some new resource to replace their old model? Did their release move them forward? Probably not. That memory is still with them. They have relived their trauma and to what end? They are most likely right back where they started.
I would rather integrate my trauma into my understanding of how I move about the world, than to relive it through “release,” wishing it away like it needed to be removed.
Healing is not an Exorcism
I do not need to banish anger, fear, and bad experiences from my being to heal. Healing implies making you whole, not ridding yourself of parts of your existence. Frankly, can we even really do that? What if rather than taking away, we incorporate all of our feelings and experiences into a whole. I for one, choose integration over release every time.