Feeling trapped is never a good thing. As a trauma survivor, feeling trapped, backed into a corner, or being forced to do something against your will, wrecks your carefully built protections. This year has been a haven of chaos, orchestrated and naturally occurring, pain, and uncertainty. We’ve lived every day of our lives, at least since March, with a constant barrage of others telling us that we have to be afraid. We’ve been told that survival is not guaranteed, and unless we do exactly as they say, we, our children, our parents and grandparents, are probably going to die. We’ve been told that every part of the life we’ve been living, is now unsafe. All without the benefit of evidence from an uncompromised source that does not change every day on the whims of another.
We have been forced to comply in ways many of us would never choose and which are unproven to be helpful (and usually shown to be worse). Many of us have lost loved ones, our careers, our businesses, our sense of safety, and our ability to defend ourselves. We are forever in limbo, waiting and praying that nothing else will be taken from us.
Yet, now we are forced to wait to find out the fate of our country. Those who were supposed to protect our right to vote, whom we tasked to faithfully, and with integrity, count and deliver the results of our vote, have been repeatedly shown to fail at this. The evidence showing they have been choosing lies, manipulation, and blatant cheating, because they didn’t like how things were going, is astounding.
People often struggle to understand how someone could be traumatized by the events of this year. Many do not understand how a trauma survivor could be struggling with maintaining their level of healing and why survivors seem to be falling back into the thinking and behavior responses of their early healing journey. In fact, many of you, are wondering this same thing. Questions such as, Was I actually healing and getting better, or was it all in my head? And, If I was actually healthy, I wouldn’t be responding to these events in this way? You may be thinking such destructive thoughts as: I knew I wouldn’t get better. None of what has happened is even close to what I’ve gone through. This shouldn’t be bothering me.
2020: The year the world lived in a state of trauma
Trauma. This often misused, misunderstood, and dismissed experience, takes many forms. The definition of trauma from the Oxford Dictionary is: A deeply distressing or disturbing experience and/or emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may be associated with physical shock and sometimes leads to long-term neurosis.
When you look back over your own personal experiences with everything 2020 has forced upon you, using that definition of trauma, it becomes easier to see how you and others have experienced trauma. This means that your body, mind, and soul have instinctual protective mechanisms in place to respond to the trauma. You don’t have to experience a massive horrific trauma in order to be traumatized.
Trauma responses take numerous forms. Being “on edge” all the time, being overly cautious and sensitive to the changes in others behavior or your environment, feelings of sadness, fear, and anger that seem out of proportion with the moment. These are all instinctual trauma responses that are out of our control. When our mind has been alerted that something is very wrong, we respond from that animal instinct place in our brain. It’s automatic, and NOT something that you can control just because you “shouldn’t” feel “this” way.
Healing and Trauma
When you are already a trauma survivor, the trauma of this year, can reactivate or worsen symptoms of PTSD. It can worsen your already activated trauma responses. This does not mean that the healing you’ve experienced isn’t real. This is something that I’ve struggled with all year. The reality that I can be healthy and relatively healed from previous traumas and still react to new traumas like I’m stuck in the past. The “I shouldn’t react like this anymore” feelings and thoughts can overwhelm you.
What we need to realize is that when we experience another trauma, the reactions that we are so familiar with, come again. Not because there’s something wrong with you, but because trauma automatically activates those fight/flight/freeze/comply reactions. That part of our mind doesn’t care that we’ve “worked on this” already. It doesn’t understand that we don’t need to react with that same intensity we did before we began healing. That part of our brain is only focused on protecting us from the immediate threat.
Responding to this new Trauma
Healing from your past trauma doesn’t mean that you won’t respond to further trauma in your life. For some with Complex PTSD, the reactions feel and are stronger than before. This is because the more trauma reactions to pile on top of each other, the more power they have. However, these reactions don’t have to control us. We can’t stop our brains from having a trauma response when we feel threatened, but we can learn and practice ways to retrain our brains, calm our vagus nerve (which runs from the base of your skull throughout your torso) which calms our central nervous system down. We can practice mindfulness tools that bring our minds and bodies in line with each other. When our minds and bodies are connected, we are more able to notice our body beginning to ramp up, even before we’re conscious of the trigger. This allows us to intervene before our thinking brain goes offline into a fight/flight/freeze/comply response.
Numerous resources exist for us to learn to practice tools to address our anxious feelings, trauma responses, and mindfulness. These tools allow us to address current and past trauma responses, working on healing while we’re in the middle of the trauma of 2020. The tools liked above are only a sample of what’s available. I personally use The Tapping Solution regularly myself. In my newsletter this week, I will link additional resources for you to explore.
Regardless of how you feel about 2020, chances are you are or have struggled through it. You might feel lost, scared, angry, dissociated, or any combination of things. This is the normal reaction we all have when we have to endure a seemingly never-ending series of traumas. Give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel, have compassion and grace for yourself, and give yourself space to walk through the nightmare that is this year.