Past trauma can affect you in many ways. It may be many years since the traumatic events, and your present life situation may be very different. However, until you are fully healed from the trauma, a part of you will remain frozen in that traumatic time.
When you experience trauma, your brain goes into a highly protective mode. It acts to keep you safe during the trauma, and in the aftermath. However, the brain doesn’t always recognise when it is safe again and to turn off protection mode.
As a person living with the effects of past trauma, you are constantly being triggered by and reacting to perceived danger. The effects will be felt in your mind and body in a number of distressing ways. It’s no wonder you can’t feel mentally healthy and be your true self. No wonder you can’t be mindful and focussed.
For years and even decades after trauma, you can carry on living in trauma survival mode. Your body will be acting as though there is an immediate danger, and you will be behaving accordingly.
A part of your brain will be constantly geared up for danger and ready to act. You know that there isn’t any immediate danger, but the protective part of your brain doesn’t know that. You may wonder why everything in your life seems safe and secure on, yet you are experiencing depression, anxiety and insecurity. You may have a feeling of impending doom, that you can’t make sense of.
You are trying your very best to move forward and to live your best life, yet you are being held back. Unfortunately, when you are living your life in this trauma survival mode, your brain is preoccupied with your most basic safety needs.
When you are in present and immediate danger to life, the brain acts accordingly to try to keep you safe from harm. This happens in a split second and involves lots of complex hormonal changes within the body to get you ready to act accordingly. For example, if you were crossing the road and a car was hurtling towards you, your brain would immediately send such signals to all parts of your body to allow you to act safely and get out of the way.
This is what is known as a fight, flight, freeze or fawn response to danger. You are avoiding this particular danger by fleeing or running away from it. When you are living with the effects of trauma, the fleeing reaction can present itself in many ways, including many damaging avoidance behaviours. You may have a deep inner feeling that you just want to run away, but not really understand why.
In a person living with trauma, the fighting reaction to danger can present itself as prickliness or defensiveness. It can come in the form of extreme anger and aggression, and also more passive-aggressive forms such as sarcasm or standoffishness. You may feel that you are constantly fighting against the world, and that life is a constant battle.
In a person living with trauma, the freeze reaction can present as an inertia, an inability to motivate yourself and a state of depression. You may feel stuck and unable to move forward with life, however much you try.
In a person living with trauma, the fawn reaction is about pleasing others in order to stay safe. You may have developed very unhealthy people-pleasing behaviours as a way of protecting yourself. You may have neglected your own needs in the process of fawning and pleasing others, losing yours sense of self in the process.
Your brain needs to know that you are safe now and no longer need to fight, flee, freeze or fawn your way out of danger. Although there certainly was a time when you weren’t safe, things are very different now. What served you very well at one time, or times in your life, is damaging you now. It is time to release the protection mechanism and move from survival mode into living.
This is where I come in. Counselling for trauma involves gently and gradually processing the original trauma. This is done at your own pace and as and when you are ready to do so.
Through fully understanding what happened and making all the connections to your current feelings, the deep sense of danger will start to shift. By compassionately accepting the inner part of you that feels the danger, we let that part of you know that it is safe now.
You will be able to move fully into the present and live with a sense of peaceful mindfulness. You will be able to connect to your intuition, that inner sense of wisdom that always knows what is right for you. This will allow you to make the right decisions for yourself and live your best life.
As you start to feel safer and to be able to get more and more distance from the trauma, your life will open up. You will feel lighter and feel more able to engage fully in life and to have the self-control and freedom to be able to achieve your goals.
The aim of trauma healing is to move from survival into living, and hopefully into thriving. You don’t have to be stuck with your trauma forever, and you don’t deserve to be.