Trauma Basics: Understanding Our Responses to Trauma

ReConnected Life

Explore the complexities of trauma and its effects on our mind and body. Learn about the natural responses to traumatic experiences and begin the journey towards self-understanding and compassion.

Understanding Traumatic Responses Beyond ‘Fight or Flight':

When we think of trauma, the ‘fight or flight' response is often the first thing that comes to mind. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Trauma can trigger a range of responses, each a natural reaction to extreme stress or danger.

Freeze Response:

The ‘freeze' response is like a deer caught in headlights. It’s a state of immobilization where the body becomes rigid, and the person feels stuck, unable to move or react. This response is especially common in cases of sexual violence. It’s the body's way of protecting itself when fighting back or fleeing isn’t possible.

Submit Response:

‘Submit' is a survival strategy where compliance is used as a form of protection. It can often lead to feelings of guilt or self-blame post-trauma, as individuals may misconstrue this compliance as consent or participation. Understanding that ‘submitting' is an instinctive response to danger is crucial in overcoming these misplaced feelings of guilt.

Attach Response:

The ‘attach' response is akin to Stockholm Syndrome. It involves developing complex emotional bonds with an abuser, particularly in long-term abuse situations. It's a coping mechanism where affection or connection with the abuser can feel like a survival strategy.

Emotional and Biological Responses During Trauma:

Trauma doesn't just influence our immediate reactions; it deeply affects our emotions and biology.

Emotional Responses:

Trauma can evoke a spectrum of emotions, some of which may seem contradictory. Feelings of fear, detachment, or even tenderness towards the aggressor are not uncommon. These emotions are the brain's way of processing the traumatic experience and should not be a source of shame or self-blame.

Biological Responses:

Our bodies react to trauma by entering a state of heightened alertness, marked by increased cortisol production. This can lead to symptoms like anxiety, sleep disturbances, and hypervigilance. Recognising these as natural biological responses to trauma can help in understanding our body's reaction and the importance of addressing these symptoms in the healing process.

Recognising and Overcoming Self-Blame:

One of the most challenging aspects of recovering from trauma is overcoming self-blame. Understanding that our responses – whether they are freezing, submitting, or attaching – are natural and instinctive, can be empowering. These are survival strategies employed by our brain and body in moments of extreme danger, not choices made from a place of rational thinking.

The Long-Term Impact of Trauma: Understanding PTSD:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a significant and often long-term consequence of trauma. It’s a condition characterized by a range of symptoms that continue to affect individuals well after the traumatic event has passed. Understanding PTSD is crucial, as it shapes our approach to recovery and healing.

Diagnosing PTSD:

PTSD is typically not diagnosed until symptoms persist for at least six months following the trauma. Early symptoms, mirroring those of PTSD, might not immediately receive this label. The criteria for a PTSD diagnosis are stringent, often requiring assessment by a psychiatrist, which can be a barrier for many.

Symptoms of PTSD:

Common symptoms include hypervigilance, flashbacks, panic attacks, sleep disturbances, and nightmares. These are manifestations of the brain's ongoing efforts to protect us, an extension of the initial trauma response. Living with these symptoms can be challenging, as they constantly remind individuals of their trauma and can make day-to-day functioning difficult.

Trauma’s Effect on Daily Life and the Window of Tolerance:

Trauma not only affects us psychologically but also influences how we navigate our daily lives. The concept of the ‘window of tolerance' is helpful here – it's the optimal zone of arousal where a person is able to function effectively.

Narrowing of the Window of Tolerance:

In individuals with PTSD, this window often narrows. They may find themselves oscillating between states of high anxiety (hyperarousal) and feelings of being shut down or numb (hyperarousal). This fluctuation can be exhausting and can lead to avoidance behaviours, where individuals steer clear of situations or stimuli that might trigger a traumatic response.

Impact on Concentration and Memory:

The constant state of alertness can make concentration difficult. Additionally, PTSD can also lead to forgetfulness, a symptom often overlooked. These cognitive effects can have a significant impact on work and personal life.

Coping and Moving Forward:

While the symptoms of PTSD can be overwhelming, it's important to remember that they are signs of the brain processing the trauma. Even without intervention, symptoms can alleviate over time. However, there are strategies and techniques that can aid this process:

Recognizing Natural Responses:

Acknowledge that the responses of your body and mind are natural and were designed to keep you alive. This recognition is the first step towards self-compassion and understanding.

Seeking Help and Building Coping Strategies:

Whether it’s through therapy, support groups, or personal coping mechanisms, finding what works for you is key. Techniques like mindfulness, meditation, and gentle physical activities can help expand the window of tolerance and bring a sense of calm and control.

Nurturing the Mind-Body Connection:

Understanding the connection between physical and emotional responses to trauma is crucial. Strategies that address both mind and body, such as somatic experiencing or yoga, can be particularly effective.

Trauma and its aftermath can reshape our lives in profound ways. As we navigate the path to recovery, it's essential to approach ourselves with kindness and patience. Remember, you are not alone in this journey. With the right understanding and support, it's possible to regain a sense of balance and hope. Your experiences have brought you here, and each step forward is a testament to your resilience and strength.

You can reach out for support to the ReConnected Life Community; it is a survivors-supporting survivors Facebook group and exists to ensure you never need to feel alone in this.


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