The DO’s & DON’Ts for Responding to Trauma

The message I hope you take home after reading this:



It is believed that our response to trauma is an ignition for the inherited genes of Bipolar Disorder.

Earlier I shared with a Bipolar Disorder Awareness group that I had opened an old wound caused by trauma from my childhood these last few days. I’ve discovered that no matter how much I know, even though I’m a psychotherapist, that I’m human and get to live with wounds or holes that never fully heal and can’t be filled. So I’m doing my best to decorate my own wound/hole by giving it nurture and a home…instead of forcing it to not exist (which is so easy to want to do because wounds hurt.)

I share this because one common problem all human beings have is that starting at birth we are all completely vulnerable to trauma, we have no protection and nothing to defend us. So when we experience trauma it can easily leave a hole or a wound that doesn’t heal, but we’ll do anything we can, consciously or unconsciously, to heal.  We may not even have the awareness of how vulnerable and how hurt we have been by life until we are adults.

At least this is my story because I did a lot of the DON’Ts I will share with you about trauma.

I was a child, like many others, who didn’t always get what I needed from my parents.  My parents were great parents and did the best they could. They loved me with all they had to give, but there was no manual for raising children. Its so funny to me that we need a license for everything in life, but after childbirth, they let us walk out of the hospital if with a helpless child if you have a car seat.

For instance, my parents didn’t know that putting me in day care when I was three months old would be traumatic for me. They had no clue that it would be a loss for me that would leave a hole/wound that would affect me throughout times in my life. They did not know that deep down inside that trauma would make me feel that I am not wanted or that I am not wantable.  If  they had, they would not have done it, they might have found an alternative. Not every child who goes through this experience has this response, but I did.

In response to this trauma and a few others that came later, I told myself over and over again the “I’m not wantable story”. I made this story become true by choosing people to be in my life who weren’t available or ready to want me in the way I wanted them to. I used this as evidence to reinforce my “I’m not wantable story.”

Don’t do this to yourself! If you’re telling yourself this kind of story, STOP IT, RIGHT NOW!  Tell yourself a new story and go find evidence to support it.

I say this because the stories I told myself made the hole bigger and my pain greater. I re-lived my own trauma over and over again. I didn’t tell anyone about it (except for my mom once when I was five).  I kept it all bottled up inside until it exploded out in rage during mania. Deep down inside I was trying to find someone to want me so the wound would heal. But I never wanted the person who easily wanted me to want me. I wanted the person who didn’t want me YET or enough to really want me.

Unfortunately, all of my efforts for years were unproductive. Even when I earned someone’s “want” that I had to earn, it was never enough. It did not and would NOT heal the wound from my trauma. Even though I was wanted, they could not take me back in time and give me what I needed from my mom and dad when I was 3 months old.

So if you are stuck on this path of story telling, you can stop right now in your tracks and explore new responses and stories. You may need help to stop the story, but it is doable.

We do this often. We want to heal so badly. But this type of response to trauma, what I did, is not what heals. At least it never has for me. Instead, what I choose to invest my healing energy into is creating new stories to respond to the trauma and finding ways to live with holes and wounds that aren’t going to go away. Most of the time I’m not effected by wounds and holes that don’t go away, except when they hurt. That is why I nurture them and give them a home instead of trying to force them to not exist.

My genetic disposition and the flawed stories and types of response to various traumatic experiences in my life may be why I am living with bipolar disorder.

Before we can explore in more detail the mistakes I made with trauma, that so many other people make too. First we should understand what trauma is and how it works.

There are four parts to trauma:

1. The EXPERIENCE is deeply distressing or disturbing.

2. The EMOTIONAL RESPONSE to the experience.

3. What we do to MAKE MEANING of  the emotional response.  How we think about it.

4. How we ANTICIPATE our future based on how we responded.


DO: Acknowledge you are experiencing or experienced something that was deeply disturbing or distressing for you.

DON’T: Bury trauma under the rug as though it never happened. Don’t put a smile on your face and make everyone around you feel good when you feel trauma or pain.

DO: Ask for help.

DON’T: Feel you need to be strong and hold it all in. You’re not supporting anyone else if you can’t support yourself. In that case, everyone falls down.

DO: Allow yourself to feel all the emotions the experience causes you to feel…and actually share them preferably with someone who you can receive support from or in a journal so it can contain your feelings and your body and mind don’t have to.

DON’T: Seal all the emotions in a jar…that’s asking for mania with exploding emotions, at least it did for me.

DO: Make meaning of the experience with a mindset, attitude and language that empowers you. For example, “I did the best I could with the resources that I had.” “I survived a….” “I overcame the loss of my job and found one that I like.” “I am living with bipolar disorder.” “I can do….” “I found my strength by….experience.” “I learned….lesson from this experience.” “I am a better person for experiencing….”

DON’T: Make meaning of the experience with a mindset and language that goes against yourself or weakens you. For example, “I could have or should have done better, but I’m not….” “I almost died in a car accident.” “I will never find a new job.” “I am (something negative that you don’t want to be).” “I can’t do anything.” “I’m just weak, stupid etc.” “The experience taught me nothing, I refuse to learn anything.” “I have nothing to offer.”

DO: Anticipate that because of this experience and everything you learned and gained from it you will and can do better in the future.

DON’T: Anticipate that because of this one experience you will never be good at anything, no one will love you and want you and you will always be alone etc etc etc (all the mean and nasty things we could say to go against ourselves.)

DO: Get professional help if your trauma is bigger than what you and/or your support system can handle.

DON’T: Waste your time by (excuse my language) bullshitting your therapist the way I did. If you don’t feel your therapist gets you and can help you. Fire them and get a new therapist.


The Bipolar Brain: The Fight For Domination…when the left cerebral hemisphere is winning

One question I often get is, “What’s happening in the brain during a manic and depressive episode?”

The truth is that scientists don’t fully know. Scientists are finding common evidence, but the brain is so complex that nothing we know about it can not be considered fact that will apply to everyone.

Therefore, I am going to share with you my ideas that are based on both my current research and my own experience of my brain in action.

A Balanced Brain – (No brain is truly balance, but let’s pretend)

A balanced brain does its best to equally disperse resources. Therefore there is no competition for resources. Both hemispheres have what they need, the layers of cortex (where our higher functioning takes place) have what they need. The limbic system (the seat of our emotions) has what its needs. Everything is basically working together and there’s harmony.

Yeah right! No brain works like this most of the time.

Bipolar brains just happen to be extreme.

A bipolar brain is a highly competitive brain, which is why many of us are so intelligent, inventive and creative. Different structures and hemispheres of our brain compete for resources to be able to do extreme things that require a lot of energy and brain power.

During Mania – Reminder this is not fact it is my theory

During Mania the left hemisphere of the brain is dominating the right hemisphere. But the right hemisphere isn’t turning it’s cheek, it is fighting back with all it’s got.  This is how the peak of mania and mixed episodes may come to be.

Mood – Mood Swings

This may be do to a structure in our brain called the Orbitofrontal Cortex getting too much energy and not enough energy as it gets pushed and pulled back and forth during the battle between the hemispheres. The Orbitofrontal Cortex is responsible for things like decision making and is sensitive to reward and punishment which may be a large factor in mood.


The structure in the brain called the Hippocampus (that is responsible for forming, sorting and storing memory) appears to be significantly inhibited during mania and/or depression. My experience was that it was incredibly inhibited when the right hemisphere took over and I went into depression, but not inhibited at all during mania.

When we are able to consume analytical information faster and easier than ever before, when our thoughts are racing, when we have multiple thoughts at once and when these thoughts get jumbled up because we cannot keep up with them….

This may be our left hemisphere, particularly in a structure called our Pre-Frontal Cortex, that is consuming so much energy and power that it has taken by dominating the right hemisphere that we cannot keep up with our brain’s ability to function and we cannot express ourselves because we cannot get it out fast enough.

They say that the average human being uses 7-10% of their brain power, well that’s a joke to someone who is manic!

When we are impulsive and take tremendous risks…

This may mean that two specific structures called the Anterior Cingulate (responsible for social inhibition)and Posterior Cingulate (responsible for being sensitive to risk) have been shut down by the lack of resources in the battle between the hemispheres. Research shows that these structures are somewhat depleted in bipolar brains to begin with, so during mania they may not be functioning.

When we feel invincible…

The battle in our brain may be taking a huge toll on our Amygdalas. The amygdalas are both responsible for emotional responses as well as our response to fear.  According to some studies, bipolar brains may have smaller amygdala in the left hemisphere and larger in the right. Therefore, when the left hemisphere is taking over during mania, the little amygdala is overloaded and may be depleted of its resources to appropriately respond to fear.

When we have a heightened sense of spirituality or oneness with all life…basically when we feel we are a god, prophets, higher being, aliens etc…

There is a part of the left hemisphere, whose name I do not know, that has been identified as the seat of spirituality. Some people have it, other people do not. During mania when the left hemisphere is consuming all of the brain’s resources this part of the brain soaks it up and runs with the energy until it is all burned up.

When we experience hallucinations or delusions…

Hallucinations and Delusions may be where the true battle between the left and right brain taking place. This may be where the right brain starts to win at times. This is all my theory from experience.

I believe that as the left and right hemispheres of the brain are battling the messages that get passed from neuron to neuron get disrupted or convoluted causing the message to change so extremely because the message gets changed by each neuron in the neural pathway.

It is basically like playing the telephone game, gone out of control.

When this happens our brain no longer sees what our eyes see and no longer hears what our ears hear. We are no longer able to be in touch with the world outside our our brain. Our brain is battling and doesn’t have the resources that moment to focus on getting accurate messages through.

During the Peak of Mania or a Mixed Episode- when all emotions explode out

This is the last fight. Mania gives the battle everything it’s got by exploding out positive feelings and emotion. But the left hemisphere has been exhausted by the right and doesn’t have many energy left.

The right hemisphere dominates with the power it has and explodes negative, ugly, nasty, horrible feelings and emotions. It does this until it exhausts itself.

During Depression – The Exhaustion

Both left and right hemispheres are depleted. They are done. Finished. And gave up the battle. Neither has any energy left to give.

Hence this is why we feel our brain is dead.

To learn about my theory about how the right brain dominates during depression, I welcome you to come back for more.


How depression knocks on your door…And how not to let it in.

Do you ever hear the doorbell, and feel the rush of anticipation feeling that it’s a friend surprising you. Then when you open the door…it’s a salesman, trying to sell you something you don’t need. That salesman is just like depression. But when it knocks, it is carrying all of your “baggage” and it will do anything it can to sell it to you and get you into bed.

Our goal today is to explore how it does this and ways to not answer the door. But if we do because depression is very sneaky, our goal is to not let it stay in bed with you long.

In order for depression to come into your life, there are things it needs to take from you.

Like mania, depression needs to either prevent you from sleeping OR cause you to sleep too much. Hence, why the first place it wants to get you is into bed…it MUST do this before it can even sell you its crap.

It does this because it knows sleep is very vulnerable. You cannot force yourself to sleep, so depression goes after sleep first. Sleep is best target because it regulates your brain and body. Without sleep you cannot function. Not being able to function is exactly what depression needs in order to come into your life and for it to survive.

To prevent depression or mania from having easy access to your sleep here are some actions to take:

  • Be consistent in your sleep pattern – go to bed and wake up daily at the same time.
  • Do not work on anything past a specific hour you set that is a few hours before bed time. (This is the hardest one especially if you are manic or having mixed episodes.)
  • Have a relaxation routine that you start an hour before bed. Ex. Turn the lights low, listen to relaxing music, take a warm bath, burn a candle. If you are tempted to try a natural approach to getting to sleep, you might even find that using a cannabis strain such as blue dream weed can help you to relax and unwind. Never smoked cannabis before? If so, you might want to consider using a mini bong. You can learn more about mini bongs here:
  • Keep a notepad by your bed so that when ideas wake you up in the middle of the night you can write them down and go back to sleep.
  • Don’t use alcohol to sleep. It will only let depression in more.
  • Talk with your doctor and request a non-addictive sleep aid.

Depression’s next easiest tool for plowing down your door is FEAR.

Fear is depression’s most highly developed and effective tool. This tool affects your life on many levels including: how you think, what you feel, what you do and how you do it – your body’s heightened stress response.

How You Think:

In order for depression to be in your life, it needs to manipulate and control your thoughts. In order to do so it will persistently tell you things like, “You will ALWAYS be (insert negative statement here)….You will NEVER (insert positive statement here)….You CAN’T…” And it plays these ugly messages to you like a tape recorder in an authoritative voice (sometimes your own, or maybe your mother and father’s etc).

This is how depression gains your trust….


When depression comes into your life after mania or hits you like a ton of bricks, it controls your thoughts differently. Because it didn’t knock on your door at all, it keeps you depressed by making you incapable of thinking and feeling PERIOD. (But this will be discussed another time.)

How You Feel:

When depression knocks on your door it needs you to feel bad. So bad that you hurt. It can’t exist unless you feel so much guilt, shame, blame, doubt, sadness, loss, pain etc…that you are willing to not resist the feelings and own them.

This is why it tells you, “Everything is your fault….” “You aren’t worthy of…” “No one will love you.” “No one wants you.” “No one will believe you.” etc.

Depression’s goal is hurt you until you go numb and can’t feel anything because it needs you to not be willing and able to do anything about it.

Depression does NOT want you to care. It needs you to not care in order for it to survive. This process often invites suicide.

What You Do:

Depression needs you to do absolutely NOTHING. In order for it to survive and make itself at home with you, it steals your energy, interests, your ability to focus, your ability to experience pleasure.

Depression needs your strength, resources and abilities in order to live.

How you do it – Your Bodies Heightened Stress Response:

The best way for depression to make you believe the thoughts and feelings that it feeds you is by making you feel it in your body.

It does this through agitation, anxiety and panic attacks.

Depression needs you to feel out of control in your body so that it can control you.

To not answer the door when depression tries to control how you think, feel, and respond in your body:

  • Acknowledge that the thoughts and feelings you are having are depression, NOT YOU.
  • See depression for what it is: Like all other living creatures it wants to survive. In order to survive it must manipulate and control you so you give it your resources. It is like a parasite.
  • Do not believe the tape recorded lies depression tells you about yourself and your life. Don’t buy what the salesman is trying to sell you. If you have to curse at him, “F*** You Depression!” It just feels good.
  • When you feel negative feelings in your body, PAUSE, breathe deeply and slowly, and ask yourself is this F.E.A.R. “False Evidence Appearing Real”.
  • When depression is stealing your interests from you, find at least one thing and keep doing it no matter what…even if its just getting out of bed.
  • Exercise – your body needs to release the stress hormones and exercise is how your body does it.
  • Focus on the “Here and Now”. You will find that when you are in the moment, depression can’t exist. Depression gets to you by focusing your attention on the past (what happened or what could have been) and the future (what might happen or “what if…”)…but never the present (what is, right now). Right now, there is no problem. The present lacks FEAR.

Doing these actions can be challenging. For help overcoming these obstacles and taking action, feel free to set up a consultation with me if you are in the Los Angeles area OR seek out a psychotherapist in your area:

I will be writing a blog on what to look for that will make a therapist a good fit.