Healing Trauma: Fight. Flight. Freeze.
In my last blog post I talked about what trauma is and how it creates limitations on your path to fulfillment. In this one, you’ll discover how trauma shows up, how it affects us, and how you can start healing it right now.
How trauma shows up:
There’s a wide range of how traumatic experiences manifest. In addition to the impact of trauma on our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, we often get stuck in dysfunctional and even destructive patterns of behavior. Sometimes the impact is subtle and pervasive with things that appear somewhat normal, like mood swings and lack of motivation. Other times it shows up like a five-alarm fire in the form of addiction, toxic relationships, extreme anxiety, depression, anger, and dissociation.
Whether subtle or extreme, we feel a sense of suffering without understanding why it’s happening or what it is stemming from.
Trauma almost always leaves us feeling like an outsider who doesn’t belong and struggles to bond with others. As social beings who have an innate need to connect, it’s so incredibly painful when we can’t. This feeling of disconnection or being alone is often marked by shame. Bonding and belonging are key to healing and preventing trauma. This is one of the biggest challenges we all face while social distancing.
In this video, Stephen Porges, a leading expert in Trauma Healing, offers a deeper understanding of why humans need social interaction and some simple ways to remedy the effects of isolation.
FIGHT. FLIGHT. FREEZE. People in trauma are consistently in a state of fight, flight, or freeze.
Here's what that can look like:
FIGHT: When you're in fight, you're always "fighting" to stay safe or get ahead. Your immediate response is to get angry and fight, even when it doesn’t seem necessary. The fight response can show up emotionally through aggression or defensiveness, or physically through violence. Road rage is one example of this, but there are more subtle and even unconscious expressions as well. When the fight response is present, you're always looking for an enemy, even when everything is okay. You may even take that stance with people you love.
FLIGHT: When you're in flight, you're afraid and on the run, or deflecting in some way. This can be expressed in avoidance or an inability to stay present in life and in relationships. When locked in the flight response, you're often running away from challenges that are resolvable. You get scared, and before you know it, you've run — e.g., left the relationship or quit the job prematurely.
FREEZE: When you’re in freeze it’s hard to take action and create change. You're frozen in fear or stuck and unable to move on things you want. You may think, “I know I should do that, but I just can’t get myself to take action” or “I feel like suddenly my voice is lost. I can’t say what I mean and I’m agreeing to do something I don’t want to do.” These are great examples of what it’s like to be in FREEZE.
There's no need to hold onto grief or fear. It is not protection. Feel it and let it go; notice the safety where it exists.
SIMPLE ACTS OF HEALING TRAUMA
Embrace the unknown.
When you’re wounded, you have a need to control life. Spontaneity is difficult to access — sometimes just in the area of our life in which we were traumatized, and other times universally. The unknown can seem very scary and yet it’s the very place we need to welcome, beyond of old patterns that keep us stuck. Real change requires a passage through the unknown. It's the space in which we create new experiences.
Smile and notice the smiles of others.
Just that act will create a better world for all us. A smile is so much more powerful than most of us realize. If nothing else, just smiling will take you — and everyone around you — to a beautiful place. This simple and natural expression has a profound impact on your nervous system and that of those you’re smiling at.
Change is nothing new. We are always in change. In these times, it’s undeniable — and we are in it together. We can’t dismiss that. What a great opportunity to collectively support each other in creating more harmony and peace. Encourage yourself and others to surrender to and accept change instead of resisting it (which only serves to create more trauma).
Act from love and care.
This is the time for it. Be motivated by love and care to do the things that protect you and your community. You don’t need to be motivated by fear to do what will be best for everyone, including you. Love and care work better, they feel better. They create a bigger good, a holistic good. Let the softness and warmth in. Soften the stiff holding of your body, be pliable. It’s okay to relax. You are safe. Notice the peace. Take time to feel it, whenever you can.
THE TRUTH ABOUT TRAUMA
Most people naturally think that trauma lives in our minds, but trauma patterns actually get stuck in your body. I’ll share more about this In the next email, and how you can work to heal it. Scientists are proving that by working with our nervous system, we can actually change our brain patterns and resolve trauma at the core.
In the meantime, I want to support you to build your resilience. Together, we can heal the new traumas of our current times as well as any past traumas being triggered. Feel free to reach out so we can create some ease and lightness around whatever you’re dealing with.
Love & blessings,