When we think of trauma responses, what are some of the things that come to mind? How did those responses save our lives and why should we embrace them now as adults?
Dissociation, Anxiety, the 4 F’s – Fight/Flight/Fawn/Freeze, are some of the most common types of trauma responses. Our minds’ way of protecting us from the things that happened in the heat of the abuse.
If our mind didn’t dissociate and take us away emotionally, removing us from being fully present, we may very well have never made it through the abuse, much less been able to live into adulthood.
Our minds had our backs, so to speak. It knew which one or combination of, Fight, Flight, Fawn, or Freeze would be best suited to help us deal with the immediate crisis at hand.
Trauma responses from the past can be warning signs for the future.
When our internal Anxiety meter starts going off and sending us signals that we are entering a potentially risky situation, how can we determine the validity of those feelings?
First off we need to recognize that our minds are warning us now, because of what happened during our abuse.
Because our mind remembers, it wants to keep us safe and let us know that, “Hey Matt, be careful here. I’m sending you this uneasy, anxious feeling, that “something isn’t right here” feeling in the pit of our stomach. “, for a reason.
Now it’s time to break down those feelings and find out how realistic they are. They are valid, absolutely, because of our past. However, by being fully in line with ourselves, congruent, we can use the tools in our healing toolbox to help us deal with the situation.
The tools in our healing tool box are the skills that we learn through our healing journey. By accepting ourselves, understanding our feelings, and how we react to situations and triggers; we can learn skills to help us work through the signals our minds are trying to warn us about.
Once we realize we are feeling anxious about a particular situation we can immediately go into a 2 step process to evaluate what’s happening and deal with it.
- Does this feel familiar? (does this situation remind me of a time in my past when I was abused, invalidated, abandoned, neglected, trafficked, starved, or suffered in some type of way?)
- If the answer is yes, go to step 2.
- If the answer is no, then we can use the steps discussed here when we talked about staying in the present and being fully aware.
- We can immediately connect to the here and now and tell ourselves that this situation does not remind us of anything in our past.
- We are not in real danger.
- “Thank you, mind, for alerting me to this potentially questionable situation, but I’m OK and I don’t need to be worried or anxious right now”.
- Then we make sure to be kind to ourselves, and be confident knowing that we are able to handle what’s coming and it’s not tied to something in our past.
- What has triggered me to feel anxious?
- Pinpoint how this current situation ties into a point in time in our past.
- We can then know that our anxiety is valid and the situation is potentially toxic or physically harmful to our wellbeing.
- We can then either decide to remove ourselves and practice healthy, safe, boundaries. Or if we cannot avoid what’s coming, we can validate our feelings and be kind to ourselves.
- Focus on not shaming yourself for the feelings you have, and practice self-care when it’s over.
Allow me to illustrate with a real world example to hopefully bring this together.
My entire life I have always felt anxiety when I am around family members or friends of the person I’m in a relationship with. Cookouts, holidays, birthday parties, all give me a ton of anxiety when being in the presence of their family.
I was in just this particular situation recently. I was going to a cookout where family members would be present; people that I had never met. I was worried about if I would be accepted or rejected. Would they like me for who I am and be interested in what I’m about?
Or would they invalidate me, blow me off, or… be kind to my face only to belittle me later after I was gone?
Does this feel familiar? For me, Yes it does. I was invalidated at home growing up. My emotional needs were not met. I was invalidated and ridiculed behind my back and to my face by the kids who bullied me in school.
So now I’ve established that this feeling is real and relevant based on my past abuse and trauma. How do I deal with it?
- I validated myself and said, “Matt, these feelings are real but that doesn’t mean that these nice people are going to do to you what others have”.
- Everything you’ve heard about them is positive, you’ve been reassured that everything will be great.
- I can’t shame myself what I’m feeling.
- I can breathe, be fully present, engage in conversation, and be proud of who I am and what I’m about.
- I make the best of the time spent here and when it’s over I will reward myself with positive reassurance and get myself a strawberry shake on the way home.
As it turns out the event went very well, I was accepted and had a good time. On the way home I didn’t end up getting myself a milkshake but I did blast some of my favorite music, and practice other forms of self-care.
By working through situations in this manner, over and over, deliberately going through the steps in our head, we’ll get quicker and quicker at it repetition.
What may take us several minutes to work through when we first start this practice, can in time be recognized and worked through in a manner of seconds. The more in tune we are with ourselves and our feelings, the easier and more efficiently we can identify the signals our minds are telling us, and if they are valid to each situation at hand.
Feature image courtesy of Pixabay.com