I was looking over a news story (really it was more of an editorial blog posting) that was blasting a drug and technique for treating Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. While the focus of my article today isn’t on PTSS, it does touch on this controversial treatment.
The issue at hand was a technique that combines a pharmaceutical that is considered an amnesiac, similar to what is administered during some surgical procedures such as colonoscopy with psychotherapy, whereby the recipient relives a severely traumatic event.
In the surgical setting, the drug renders the recipient unable to remember the procedure or the unpleasantness of it, which can be rather useful in the appropriate surgical setting.
The controversy arises because of the effect of the drug plus the talk therapy. The result is said to be that the sufferer ends up “forgetting” the traumatic event and thus eliminating all the negative physical and emotional stress that comes with the bad memories. Instead of healthy ways of working through the memories, the sufferer is aided in blocking them out.
Blocking out traumatic events is something the brain does as a defense mechanism in many cases. Sometimes, the block is permanent. Sometimes, it isn’t. When it isn’t, and the horrible events come rushing back in, it can be quite problematic for the victim.
That is why psychiatrists and other doctors have been looking into techniques to simulate the process of eliminating bad memories.
But at what cost?
On the one hand, eliminating bad memories that serve no purpose other than to torment the victim, and offer no possibility of valuable life lessons to be learned may be worthwhile. On the other, this process adds the possibility of negative side effects from not only the drug, but also the problem of the sufferer remembering everything eventually.
But the really interesting controversy is where the limits of this treatment are pushed. Some contend it may be abused, as in the case where someone with a guilty conscience wants the treatment done so they can sleep at night.
Not being able to sleep when your conscience is heave with guilt is actually a good thing…it shows that you are not a sociopath. It is a normal, healthy reaction to understanding consequences and being able to empathize with whomever it was you may have slighted.
However, punishing oneself by suffering endless sleepless nights does no one any good. You have to be able to move on from the bad memories of whatever it was you did in effective, healthy, and natural ways so you can sleep and so your body can function optimally, without drugs and without controversial psychotherapeutic therapies.
Depending upon what the infraction is that is causing the crisis of conscience, you have a variety of means to overcoming the guilt reaction in a responsible and healthy way. Using drugs to forget about the act that is causing your guilt is not one of them. This is the problem at the heart of the controversy.
Proper treatment should not only reflect the severity of the moral gaffe, but also your own reaction to it.
Sometimes, it is simply a matter of writing yourself a letter, whereby you actually state to yourself, “I forgive you.” Be able to forgive yourself first, and then move on with reparation elsewhere. This is really effective when your problem is a simple flub, such as “why did I say that? That was so mean,” or, “I can’t believe I danced like a crazy person after drinking too much.”
For bigger moral dilemmas, you may want to join a support group or seek counseling in being able to find the best course of reparation that is healthy for everyone involved.
This also may involve making the tough choices about coming clean to someone who doesn’t know you have caused them harm in some way. This would be between you and your minister, counselor, or lawyer.
Seeking to free yourself from guilt isn’t selfish. It is normal and healthy. It shows that you feel remorse. Being able to take the next step in making amends for it is the best way to naturally lift the weight that keeps you awake at night.
Don’t let something you did in the recent or even distant past stand in the way of good sleep. Chances are that whatever you did may be keeping someone else up at night as well and a simple “I’m sorry” would do you both good.
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