10 Things I Learned About Trauma
1. Fight, Flight or Freeze
When we feel threatened our body and mind respond to stress alert. There are three basic responses we are wired to have and these are: fight or flee from danger and if we are unable to fight back or to flee from the danger, we freeze which means that our entire cognitive system shuts down to protect us from feeling the pain. Trauma is the energy that results from the experience in the body and the mind. According to Pete Walker, there is also a fourth response he calls fawn and he asserts that we can experience a combination of responses like flight fawn or freeze fawn. To learn more go here (http://pete-walker.com/)
2. Denial and Ruminating
Although research has shown that every person will have a trauma experience at least once in a lifetime, most of us do not connect our behaviors and our pains with a trauma experience. However, denial is a very common coping method for many and ruminating or going into our heads and having scenarios play back and forth from the past to the future is a frequent practice for many. As a child I learned day dreaming as a way to avoid the painful experiences and also as a means to understand the complexities of life. Later on, I learned that this was a habit of ruminating in adult life and I have to be mindful not to fall back into this old habit.
3. Anger and Rage
Trauma is caused by the fact that the person was unable to flee from the threat and this results in fragments of memories of the five senses. So one gets triggered by smell, or flash backs or sounds and other reminders of the trauma experience. More importantly, to feel anger is natural when one has not been able to respond by fighting back or by fleeing from the event. Anger when untapped and unexpressed turns into rage. The fear of expressing rage causes repression of one's emotions and the repressed emotion leads to depression. I'm not a psychologist, but common sense tells us that if we feel victimized and find ourselves constantly pushing down our true feelings of anger at what happened it will eventually make us sad and the weight of sadness makes us lose motivation and enthusiasm which are signs of depression.
· When pain is too great, we are wired to distance ourselves from the pain. One way is denial; the other is freeze so as not to be cognizant of what is happening at the time the pain is being inflicted. After a trauma experience, a person feels numb and it may take a while before being able to reconnect back to feeling the range of emotions. Normally, we experience range of emotions. Anger, fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, surprise, and contempt are the main emotions of human beings. However, a person who experienced trauma may feel numb and not connect with these emotions at least not to the extent that they can express them effectively.
5. Heartbreak and Sorrow
No one likes being a victim because feeling helpless is a disappointing experience. It impacts the way we see ourselves and diminishes our power to execute. Being disappointed in oneself has a definite heartbreak, being disappointed with humanity because of a bad incident also causes much sorrow. If the trauma incident has not been effectively negotiated in the mind and the person is left feeling victimized and helpless it becomes very difficult to be joyful and have a glad perspective.
6. Body Talks with Pain
Peter Levine is a pioneer who discovered that trauma experience gets embedded in the body. Many others have gone on to expand on the idea that when the mind shuts off through denial or repressed memories the body speaks out with aches and pains. Chronic pains in the joints and muscles, back aches and headaches, indigestion and sleeplessness are all attributed to symptoms of trauma. After having lost my mother to sudden death and having gone through an ugly divorce, I had suddenly developed a nerve pain that resonated from my neck and shoulder down to my left hand. It got so bad that I could not open doors or hold a teacup with the left hand. In the end, after having seen many doctors and done many tests, the pain resolved itself once my grief found a channel through art, poetry, meditation, spirituality and yoga.
7. Disconnecting from Pain
It is only natural that we would not want to experience pain, particularly the acute pain that we experienced at the time of a trauma incident. To disconnect from pain the mind creates distractions or splits off into another part of the psyche that will compensate with that pain in some other way. Eating, drugs, alcohol, or other habits may become the default distraction that the compensating part takes on. Rather than fighting to avoid feeling the pain, going through the difficult space of feeling the pain leads to healing, but feeling the pain for its own sake is recurring trauma and only perpetuates the problem. Rather, I learned to use the pain as an instructor by asking what it is trying to teach me and by making room to understand where pain was coming from I found a way to reconnect with the parts that felt remote and unavailable.
One of the hardest things to overcome is when we doubt ourselves and second guess our decisions. In a trauma incident when one is unable to defend or flee from the perpetrator or the situation, the person is left with the thought, “I should have done something.” This idea however untrue in some instances persists because we are wired for survival and fighting or fleeing to protect and guarantee our preservation is a natural instinct. We attribute the harm done to our failure to respond, that sets the premise to doubt our judgements and decisions, as well as to be suspicious of others. I went through a period of repeated vigils to address this issue and finally found a spiritual practice that removed doubting my decisions from my daily life.
9. Threat Avoidance
One of the key residues of trauma is fear and living in fear which many experience in the form of constant anxiety or in some cases it takes on the reverse in numbness and in becoming reckless. The mind will be looking for ways not to repeat the bad experience (trauma incident) and for that it will set up scenarios (perspectives) that avoid the possibility of threat. Many people spend a great deal of energy and time planning and being extra cautious to avoid danger and problems. Their perspective is always “in case something happens” and because they anticipate a problem they often create their inner reality with manifesting problems. While avoiding impending danger or problems is the right thing to do, to live every moment with the idea that there is only threat and problems awaiting one’s every step is both exhausting and takes all the fun out of life.
When we distance ourselves from a painful experience and engage in the habit of forgetting or blocking the memory there is some kind of separation from the core self that happens. For a long time I felt that my life was moving on two tracks. One track was where I experienced myself as efficient at work and presented myself as a capable individual. The other track was the one with a running theme of feeling helpless, doubting myself, looking for perfection, being super critical of my own process and isolating from others because I felt ashamed. This duality can become a serious problem for some, to the point where the pathology will be diagnosed as bi polar. The duality also manifests in extremes of high and low mood swings that make the person feel very unstable and perpetuates self-doubt.
TAASTTA offers a safe space in online classrooms to work on the issues mentioned above with interactive exercises, discussions, and practicing different forms of the arts. If you are interested to participate, email: firstname.lastname@example.org