This guest blog post comes courtesy of my friend, and author, Jennifer Peacock-Smith. You might know Jen from her recent release, The Lion and the Peacock, How I Conquered Anxiety. If you haven’t checked out her book, I definitely recommend it as an amazing resource from a real life, personal perspective of dealing with and beating Anxiety.
This blog post is Part 1 in a series that Jen will be sharing here on Surviving My Past, in which she explores how she and her husband differ in their responses to stressful situations, being either paralyzed or mobilized. I’m so excited to share this one with you and to see what she has in store next. Without further delay, read on and I hope you will find as much validation and encouragement as I did in reading this.
About ten years ago we were flying from Cape Town, South Africa to Sydney, Australia and we needed to first fly through Johannesburg. That first leg was only a two hour domestic flight but it meant that when we landed in Johannesburg we needed to change terminals from domestic to international, and we only had about an hour to collect and re check our bags, go through customs and security, and be at the gate before they closed the flight.
We planned it well and everyone was in charge of two pieces of luggage. We smoothly maneuvered through tightly packed crowds and as we made it through security and collected our bags from the other side of the Xray machine, I realized that one of boys did not have his hand luggage with him. It wasn’t just a piece of luggage that was missing however, it contained all the chargers for every phone, camera and computer that we had with us in the whole group. I almost felt my stomach drop to the floor and I was stunned that both he and his father just stood there with their mouths open.
A terrible mistake had been made, but no one lifted a finger to do anything about it. I grabbed my passport out from the bundle in his hand and ran as fast as my legs could carry me, back through security before anyone could stop me and back to the domestic terminal. I tore my favorite skirt in the process and I arrived back at the gate sweaty and hot, huffing and puffing as they were about the close the doors. Not a great way to board a 14 hour international flight.
No one was happy. Least of all me. I felt angry and frustrated that as the smallest (and only female) in the group, I had been the only one to do anything. I felt as if the two men involved had instantly become statues. This isn’t an unusual scenario in our house and it leaves me feeling angry and exasperated. These are otherwise strong, amazing, kind and thoughtful people. What was wrong with them? Sometimes I feel like banging my head against a brick wall.
Fast forward a decade and through many years of deep therapy surrounding both our families of origin abuse, and we are learning phrases and terms which are helping us in ways that are hard to explain … way beyond the simple unpacking of our abuse and neglect, we are finding that they transfer so well into other areas of our lives.
Paralyzed and Mobilized are two such words. My husband’s automatic response to stress is often to become paralyzed by it. If it is something to do with work and he knows the solution, he becomes empowered and animated and has an unusually clear head. But when it comes to people, shops, airports, anything that he struggles with, he becomes completely paralyzed. It is as if his brain shuts down and all the coping tools that he has learnt become invisible. It isn’t even as if he can’t use them, he can’t even find them or know how to look.
I on the other hand always become mobilized, for good or for bad. The airport scene was a perfect example of this. Him standing there dumbstruck in all ways, and me tearing around fixing everything.
As we head into another family wedding in a few days, the two of us stopped yesterday to reflect on how everyone in our immediate family is coping with the busyness and stress of it all. Our family is in a season of weddings, babies and international moves. All seriously stressful milestones, and great examples of how we cope with different things. We realized that exactly half of us become paralyzed by stress and the other half mobilized by it.
Is this just how it always will be? Is this a personality thing or was it moulded by our experiences both good and bad. I am still unpacking it and I will share with you what I find, but in the mean time the important nugget that we have got from this is this:
Abuse is about control and being on the raw end of control means we were rendered powerless.
When there is no way to fight back, as humans our brains protect us by shutting down, dissociating, or other ways to keep our hearts and souls “safe”. I realized that I too shut down in many situations and also become paralyzed.
It is easy to assume that someone who becomes paralyzed is stupid, selfish, incapable, but in actual fact they are simply coping the only way that they know how. In the next few months we are planning on simply sitting in this new finding and allowing each other the freedom to be paralyzed as a perfectly valid response. We will then work through how to empower each other to feel safe and find the coping tools that we have learnt the last few years so that each of us can unlock the keys to safely becoming empowered even in stressful situations.
Jennifer Peacock-Smith is the author of The Lion and the Peacock, her book on overcoming anxiety. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook on @JPeaSmith, or sign up for her no spam weekly newsletters here: http://ow.ly/QCCA308aR7x
If you would like to be a guest blogger, just contact me anytime and lets share your story!
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