I talked before about the ‘normal’ life events that can cause us to experience trauma, and the fact that the size and significance of the trauma does not equate or determine the level or length of trauma experienced.
My trauma from a three-year emotional and physically abusive relationship did not manifest straight away. I moved on after finding the courage to leave, to marry and have two children, yet experiencing the birth of my first son via emergency c section, and subsequent post-partum depression, did I think accelerate and escalate trauma’s impact upon my life.
So, here I am 15 years later trying to make sense of it, still loath to apply the label of trauma and PTSD to my life, yet in the hope that it does give me some closure and answers to my years of suffering.
The fact is that any type of trauma and the reaction to it that we experience is science, and not choice. It is the parts of our brain that are sensitised to threat and elevate to a state of anxiety and arousal. This is usually limited to fight or flight, yet with trauma we tend to live in a more constant state such as this. The hippocampus area of our brain is hijacked so memories are not consolidated, and so we become overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts. Our brain stem and pre-frontal cortex overflows with sensory stimulation. So, it’s not just a case of snapping out of it, but, working our way through recovery. What we need to remember is that although the brain changed due to trauma, it does contain the possibility to change again. The version of you pre trauma and despite your experiences does exist. In any moment you can operate from your ideal or survivor self with a little help.
The brain takes its shape from whatever it rests upon, the structure changes as a result of the information flowing through it. For so long post trauma, this has changed for me the way that my brain worked and the way that I saw things.
Trauma blows up the tracks of your life and recovery challenges you to reconnect the tracks for the train to run consistency. Your emotional capacity has been deadened by trauma, yet underneath lies the pure essence of who you are; the ability to feel love, compassion, encounter joy and notice desire again.
You can create your world, your life and your experiences based on what you believe. What you say about yourself is what you see, hear, feel and experience. An anchor to your sense of identity is a sense of connection with the meaningful elements in your lifetime. Regaining the self-definition can help you to clarify yourself, your choices and what your future can be.
The values that you hold are the things by which you hold important of behaviours and your desires are your life affirming energies. To reclaim the control over these requires responding versus reacting and creating versus accepting. If you have the ability to imagine an alternative self, then that person exists in you and you can engage in that self to heal and recover. Your core self remembers and remains constant like an inner flame. Living from this core self allows the real self to be available.
This connection is the key to recovering your real self as living disconnected from this decreases your strength, your courage and your confidence. This is why we find it difficult to access resilience, productivity, utilise our imagination and move forward for so much of the time. Just remember that no matter what the trauma changed, the core of you still remains unchanged. Cultivate that connection with who you were, your foundations have been shaken and you need to reclaim yourself in order to recover. That takes time and focus.
The main areas that can be affected by trauma are; your safety in yourself an others, trust, control, esteem and intimacy. Your hold disempowering assumptions and your life is a reflection of this.
As humans we withdraw when we do not feel good about ourselves, both physically and emotionally. We only allow people to know certain aspects of ourselves, the fear letting go and allowing ourselves to have spontaneity makes us guarded at times.
So, what has helped me to face trauma?
Beginning to know myself, valuing what I feel is important, acting on what I believe is important, forgiving myself for mistakes I have made and wrong assumptions I make about myself, rewarding myself for accomplishments. You need to allow yourself to be flexible, to learn all you can, avoid impulse changes by planning ahead, exercise, break the bigger tasks into smaller steps, pay attention to your reactions and your feelings at all times and take the time to sense check their reality, talk to others and seek support in those around you. Remember that you are not alone. Recognise the strength that you have already survived.
For me, I have a new awareness of my inner strengths. I had the power to walk away from what was hurting me, possibly before it was fatal. I have new priorities, and an appreciation of daily life. I respect all other survivors, both for what they have been through and the fact that they can and will be able to deepen their emotional life and find comfort and confidence.
Let go of your inner critic for it will drown you out with self-doubt and destructive thoughts. Journaling has been a good way to challenge thoughts and transform the disruptive and negative, to challenge my behaviour. Introspective exposure by recreating body sensations, trains the mind to stop responding negatively. Sometimes we need to face our fears and follow them to the end in order to change our perspective and turn negatives into positive. Recognise your before and after emotions, the triggers and effects after an emotion in order to gain better control over them. By this I mean the “When I am … I feel.. then I”. This helps stem the negative reactions to your emotions.
Within you there are two forces, one is clinging to the safety and defensiveness out of fear and the other is urging you to be a whole and expression of your full and true self. Do you recognise these two polarities? The one afraid to take chances and ruin the status quo, and the other with a nagging sense to grow from feeling unfulfilled? You have the potential to make the choices to a more successful existence, but your self-belief and self-esteem is critical to this change.