I’m talking specifically here about what I call “ordinary trauma.” It’s easy to see how severe trauma would mess up anyone’s life, but what about the more subtle trauma? The common every day experiences that for one reason or another don’t get fully processed. We don’t often even think of these events as “traumatic” but they impact us in ways we can’t see.
If we all understood trauma and how it works, we would have more compassion for our fellow humans AND for ourselves. I know that for me, before I was trained in trauma, I used to be a very harsh judge of myself! Especially when I would freak out or get super emotional about something small! Now I see it almost like getting a case of diarrhea (which incidentally I have while I write this!!)
Now having a case of the runs doesn’t make me question my worth as a human, right? I’m just waiting for it to pass (literally). I’m not telling myself how weak I am…or how immature I am…or how crazy I am. I’m just having an off day and I’m calm in the knowledge that this will pass and I’ll feel better later.
Can you imagine if we could be like that with our mental breakdowns, anxiety, depression, crying jags and angry outbursts??
What if we could extend that same sense of grace and compassion to others when they are freaking out and flying off the handle?
Wouldn’t our relationships be better?
I see everything that happens in the world through the lens of trauma. I see everyone’s bizarre behavior as the result of some unprocessed memories living in their limbic system that if only they would take the time to heal they would be able to behave differently in the world.
What Does it mean to be Trauma-Informed?
First, I want to dispel a myth. Actual memories do not come into your brain when you are triggered.
Lately I’ve realized that a lot of people think that actual memories arise when we get upset. People think that it can’t be an undigested memory issue because they “haven’t even thought of that event in a long time.”
This is NOT the case. For most of us (me included) it’s very difficult to know what the actual memory it is that is setting off our limbic system.
For example, My partner said something to me this weekend and I immediately felt my heart race and suddenly felt like crying. No actual memory emerged, I just felt weird and upset. No memory will come up in these cases for ANYONE. Even the war veteran who hears the helicopter will likely not be thinking of the battlefield, he will just suddenly feel terror (or whatever he feels) for no reason.
As Bessel Van Der Kolk, author of “The Body Keeps the Score” says,
”Trauma comes back as a reaction, not a memory.”
We don’t remember what happened to us that is stored in the emotional center, all we know is we are reacting in a disproportionate way to the situation.
It’s like a split occurs. Intellectually, we know we “shouldn’t be so upset” but in our body and heart we ARE. In fact we can feel SOO upset that we feel out of control at times. Other times, we may just feel anxious or “off.” Sometimes, our self-esteem suffers and we can feel a real lack of confidence. Our thinking also becomes very narrow. We can’t see options for how to respond to the situation at hand because we are caught in “reaction mode.”
Even if you’re normally a very smart and creative problem solver, when you “get triggered” (ie your limbic system gets activated), you just can’t think straight.
Can you see how this could impact your whole entire life? Can you see how this might impact the whole entire world??
If you get anxious, your self-esteem suffers and you can’t see options, it makes it very difficult to truly be your best self.
The truth is that any problems that you or anyone else struggles with can be explained through this framework of trauma.
But there is a way out!
Just because you can’t remember or figure out what memories have been misfiled in the limbic system doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless. This is the work I do every day! I help people to determine what memories are undigested and then take them through the processing required to “re-file” them in the prefrontal cortex (adult brain).
It’s an odd process, but it WORKS.
In the next blog, I’ll explain more about how we figure out what memories to target and then how we actually help these memories to process.
SO STAY TUNED!!
Until then may you be kinder to yourself (and others) when you (or they) get triggered!
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