Let's start by pointing out that safety is a relative thing for all of us and largely dependent upon the cultural climate in which we live in, the laws in place for our protection (or discrimination), and the level of social support available to us (community is especially life giving in times of duress). These things are all connected and we are very much a part of it. It is only natural to feel fear as a result of any kind of violence and we are seeing more of it in our country today directed specifically at people of color, people who are LGBTQ+, and others. (If you are reading this today, November 6th, and you can, please vote.) That being said, what we can control on a personal level is how we respond. That is the subject of this blog post.
Do you find it difficult to relax? Does it get in the way of your functioning? You may be in trauma mind in those moments (or months).
Things that can put you into trauma mind...
-a raised voice, tone of voice, or facial expression
-perceiving that someone is upset with you (particularly someone close with you)
-witnessing people being upset, in conflict, or in crisis (even in the news or on tv)
-a distressing feeling, such as feeling anxious, embarrassed, lonely, scared, or overwhelmed
-being around someone who is not sober
-being around someone who is angry
-the threat of violence (can be simply a felt sense of danger)
-a bad dream
-experiencing any kind of violence (including physical, emotional, spiritual, political, and other forms of violence)
Trauma mind is what I call our body and mind's very common and natural response to (real or imagined) stress or trauma. It's actually a good thing, geared at keeping us safe. The only thing is, with enough activation, it can take on a life of its own. This leaves us hijacked by a runaway stress response. Sound familiar? Read on to identify when you're in trauma mind, the first step toward taming it, and what you can do to get out.
When I am in trauma mind...
-I only see negatives
-focus exclusively on what's wrong
-have unwanted thoughts about bad things happening
-see things in black and white
-blame others for my problems
-ruminate on how I've been hurt
-feel scared, sad, and alone
-feel far away from any sense of relaxation or joy
-cannot see what's been going well
This is because I am not feeling physically or emotionally safe. So, my brain has been switched into survival mode (acting as if I am in imminent danger). All of my body and mind's resources are shifted into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn/friend/appease. In this state of self protection, my thinking is clouded by stress hormones in an effort to keep me safe.
When I am not in trauma mind...
-I can see new possibilities
-remember and envision progress and positive outcomes
-give people the benefit of the doubt
-relax, laugh, have fun, and feel hope
-see people and things in multifaceted, realistic, complex ways
-own my strengths as well as my weaknesses
-be genuine in my thoughts and actions
-be open, curious, and otherwise flexible
This is because I am feeling physically and emotionally safe. I cannot be in this state of mind without it. All of my body and mind's resources are available, as they have not been mobilized for survival. I can think clearly and be myself with others. I can access all of my brain's functions, such s memory, as they are not impaired by stress hormones.
Trauma mind is a powerful force but can be interrupted by using coping skills.
We can learn to tame a runaway stress response by learning to...
1) recognize when we're in trauma mind
2) actively take steps to calm down and disengage from trauma mind
3) practice using all of our body and mind's abilities (available to us only when we are not in trauma mind) more often
With practice, we can absolutely strengthen our ability to calm down and grow our body and mind's calm restorative state. You are the only one who can find out what works for you. A counselor, your own research, and, most of all, trial and error practice can help. (Note: When you can't tame trauma mind, and it won't always happen, an equally important goal is to just get through it safely.)
Trauma mind is something that comes up a fair amount in my work. None of us are immune to it. (It was built in for our survival.) But, with some awareness, we can learn to not just survive but thrive with it. It's all in how we relate with it. And, of course, a healthy society helps. I hope that you found this blog post on the subject useful.